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Funds requested for former NFPI cleanup

WINDOW ROCK

The former Navajo Forest Products Industry site has caused concern among the Red Lake community due to the environmental damage that was caused and has created a public health hazard.

Red Lake Chapter and the Navajo EPA director, Valinda Shirley, have requested funds to aid in the cleanup the NFPI location.

The Navajo EPA prepared a report in 2021 that detailed the damage and concerns the site has caused. In the report, it stated that there is soil and groundwater contamination.

The report states NFPI operated for eight years before there was a Nation EPA and 10 years before the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Commission was established.

“Due to their standard operating procedures, NFPI had multiple unpermitted discharges and violations of the Clean Water Act,” the report states.

During time of operation, NFPI admitted to NTUA that it had discharged into NTUA’s sewer lagoons, which consisted of waste water that contained chemicals, some environmentally harmful.

The report said USEPA staff observed discharge leaking from an underground pipe that came from the power plant and cooling towers. This meant the chemicals were flowing into Black Creek, which is used to fill Red Lake.

“Environmental problems arise when water escapes from a boiler system in the form of droplets from the cooling towers, the boiler piping, and the connecting pipes between power generation plants and cooling towers,” the report states.

Last July, the chapter requested a minimum of $1 million annually to help aid in the cleanup of the sawmill site.

Then in June 2022, Navajo EPA requested $5 million to be placed into Navajo EPA Superfund Hazardous Waste Fund that will go exclusively toward remediation of the NFPI site.

Due to this, legislation (No. 0110-22) was formed in June to allocate $5 million from the Sihasin fund into the Hazardous Substances Fund to use on environmental assessment and remediation activities.

The Naabik’íyáti Committee had a work session on Monday discussing the legislation further.

During this session, Prestene Garnenez, a concerned citizen of Red Lake and active member in the Red Lake Chapter, spoke.

Since the sawmill’s closure, Garnenez said the community has tried to improve conditions for themselves through ways such as covering up graffiti on the former sawmill.

Due to limited funds and the use of volunteers, there was only so much that could be done, she said.

During this time, around three or four years ago, the community contacted Pam Maples, remedial project manager at Navajo EPA, to give them a presentation on what happened at the NFPI site.

“What we heard scared us,” Garnenez said. “You know, in that we were susceptible to health issues because of the asbestos that was there. We learned that the soil was contaminated with diesel and gas.”

Another fact in the presentation that scared her was the Red Lake community does not know entirely what is on the site.

“There still needs to be more sampling done in order for us to know exactly what’s there and, for myself, we still have sheep and they graze very closely to the Black Creek,” she said.

She also knows some of her relatives and other residents use the water from Black Creek to irrigate crops, water animals and pick medicine near the creek.

“We really need to pay attention (to) what is happening at the NFPI site,” Garnenez said. “We don’t entirely know what’s going on and then once we do then we can make a real solid plan about how do we clean up the site, how do we remediate or even just mitigate some of the hazards at the site?”


About The Author

Hannah John

Hannah John is from Coyote Canyon, N.M. She is Bit’ah’nii (Within His Cover), born for Honágháahnii (One Who Walks Around), maternal grandfather is Tábaahí (Water Edge) and paternal grandfather is Tódich’ii’nii (Bitter Water). She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s in communications and a minor in Native American studies. She recently worked with the Daily Lobo and the Rio Grande Sun.

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