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Laura Singleton/The Independent 

Above: Show Low Police Chief Joe Shelley (left) and Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District Chief Bryan Savage (right) read the classic Christmas story, “Polar Express” to children during the annual Show Low Public Library Polar Express Night Friday, Dec. 20. There were approximately 300 tickets sold for the three magical readings. At left: A mother and baby get their tickets punched for the reading.

Hopi leery of wind farm’s impact on sacred eagles

APACHE & NAVAJO COUNTIES — The Hopi believe eagles carry prayers essential to the survival of all things up to the spirit world.

So they’re not at all sure how to feel about a massive wind farm that will dramatically reduce pollution and save groundwater – at the cost of killing eagles and other birds sacred to the Hopi.

File photo 

The Springerville-Eagar Regional Chamber of Commerce invited the public to the Casa Malpais Ruin site for a 2005 dance celebration. Hopi dancers return to their ancestral village to dance once again.

Two Hopi elders voiced their concerns recently when the Navajo Board of Supervisors approved a 42,000-acre wind farm near Winslow.

“We have cultural sites here on top of Chevelon Peak and all along the Mogollon Rim,” said Hopi Tribal Council member Clifford Qotsaquahu. “Our primary concern is as stewards of this land. We hold a true fate to our Creator and also to the animals who this Earth belonged to initially.”

Courtesy photo/  

The Dry Lake Wind Power Project, located north of Snowflake, consists of 30 wind turbines which provide power to Salt River Project. It was constructed in 2009 and was the Arizona’s first utility-scale wind farm. NextEra is now pursuing a 100-megawatt wind project east of Springerville in New Mexico.

Studies suggest in the past 40 years the existing fields of windmills elsewhere may have killed as many as 2000 bald and golden eagles, who fly into the spinning blades.

Qotsaquahu understood the environmental benefits of wind power and even the jobs the wind farm will create – as well as the lease payments to ranchers that will preserve another traditional lifestyle.

“They’re an eyesore,” he said of an existing wind farm near Moab. “But it’s amazing to have these great big things standing up and making power. I don’t know how many flying animals have been killed. I know this area is populated by crows. You know why you see crows on the road but they never get run over by cars?” he added, deadpan. “Usually because there’s a crow further on down hollering ‘car, car, car.’”

That got a big laugh from the crowded board of supervisors meeting room.

Hopi Tribal Council member Dale Singua also spoke about the likely toll on wildlife when the wind farm goes into operation in the next few years, with the 700-foot tall blades spinning at 30 to 50 miles an hour.

He said the project developers did not sufficiently consult the Hopi wildlife office, which has unmatched expertise when it comes to eagles.

Hopi clans have exclusive rights to eagle nesting sites, which they monitor carefully. They have unique permits to take a strictly limited number of the young eagles, which they raise in the village for a year or more with careful prayer and ceremony. They ceremonially kill the eagles and carefully harvest their feathers, which are critical in many Hopi ceremonies. The Hopi believe that their prayers remain critical in holding back the destruction of this – the Fourth World – and that the eagle feathers carry those prayers to the Creator. They bury the eagle who has sacrificed his feathers in a special cemetery alongside the cemetery for all the Hopi, with the same reverence and ceremony.

“Are we totally against his project?” asked Singua. “No. We’re stepping back and saying, we don’t totally agree with it because we don’t feel we were totally consulted. So when you listen to this (presentation), take it with a grain of salt.”

The sPower spokesman Terrance Unrein hastened to assure the Navajo Supervisors that the project has already spent a year recording use of the area by eagles and other birds and wildlife. The developers have consulted with the both the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Department of Game and Fish and agreed to place the windmills a mile away from known nesting and use areas for the eagles. Potential nest areas include Chevelon Buttes as well as a network of canyons at the edge of the project, which sits mostly on the high, flat, arid plain.

Moreover, the developer has promised to undertake continued surveys and adjust operations to minimize the death of eagles and other sensitive species.

Still, the giant, spinning blades will almost certainly kill eagles, bats and other birds.

In a later interview with the Independent, Unrein said the company will undertake ongoing bird and eagle studies and analysis. “Since 2018, we have been working diligently with the (state and federal) agencies to implement various avoidance schemes from known eagle use areas. The next major step is to prepare a Bird and Bat Conservation Strategy.”

He didn’t say whether that might include automated radar systems used elsewhere that shuts down individual turbines at the approach of a large bird – like a bald or golden eagle. In one test, the Identi Flight system identified about five times as many birds approaching windmills as human observers, according to a study published in Biological Conservation. A field test on a field of windmills in Wyoming detected some 1,000 approaching eagles. The energy company agreed to test the system after being cited by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for causing excessive eagle deaths.

Studies suggest the nations’ existing windmills may have killed 2,000 eagles in the course of the past 40 years. One study put the toll on eagles at perhaps 100 annually, although the figures remain incomplete due to limited monitoring by the wind power industry. One study of the 7,000 windmills in the Altamont Pass in California counted 14 golden eagles killed in one year.

An estimated 20,000 golden eagles remain in the nation and their numbers are declining. The proposed wind farm would mostly threaten golden eagles, which nest in nearby canyons and forage for rabbits on the plains – and perhaps waterfowl drawn to stock tanks within the wind farm area. By contrast, the population of bald eagles has grown to perhaps 70,000 nationally, after nearly dying out due to the effects of the since-banned pesticide DDT.

Bird advocacy groups have raised the alarm about the potential impact of the nation’s rapidly expanding use of wind power. One 2013 study in The Wildlife Society Bulletin estimated the 52,000 wind turbines across the US kill 573,000 birds annually. The number of windmills have increased rapidly since 2013.

One estimate predicted that the much larger and more numerous windmills could kill 1.4 million birds annually by 2030, without a change in policy or the expanded use of alert and shutdown systems like Identi Flight. The toll on bald eagles could rise sharply if proposed wind farm development are completed in coastal areas or on the shores of the Great Lakes. Bald eagles spend most of their time around bodies of water, since they live mostly on fish.

The preliminary studies for the sPower wind farm in Navajo and Apache Counties documents relatively light use of the area by endangered and threatened species, especially birds. Golden eagles nest in nearby canyons like West Clear Creek and may venture into the wind farm hunting rabbits and waterfowl. The survey revealed just two golden eagle nests within 10 miles of the project. However, due to the possible forage areas the project was deemed to pose a “moderate to high” risk to golden eagles.

Photo by Tom Brennan, www.reptilesofaz.org 

Chiricahua Leopard Frog

Other endangered, threatened and sensitive species that “may occur” in the project area include the Chiricahua Leopard Frog, the California Condor, the Mexican Spotted Owl, and the Mexican grey wolf, according to a US Fish and Wildlife assessment.

Condors reintroduced north of the Grand Canyon have been recorded within 21 miles of the project and could fly through the wind farm looking for mammal carcasses, including the bodies of deer and antelope shot by hunters or the poisoned bodies of coyotes.

The Chiricahua Leopard Frog occurs within 10 miles of the project, mostly in Clear Creek and Chevelon canyons.

At least one reintroduced Mexican Grey wolf has been recorded moving through the project area – well outside the reintroduction area near Alpine.

A host of other less endangered birds are found in the project area including bald eagles, Bendire’s thrashers, black-chinned sparrows, black-throated gray warblers, Brewer’s sparrows, burrowing owls, canyon towhees, Cassin’s finches, chestnut-collared longspurs, black hawks, nighthawks, evening grosbeaks, ferruginous haws, golden eagles, gray vireos, juniper titmouses, Lewis woodpeckers, Lincoln’s sparrows, long-billed curlews, MacGillivray’s warblers, northern goshawks, peregrine falcons, pinyon jays, prairie falcons, Brazilian free-tailed bats, Arizona myotis bats, pale lump-nosed bats, Townsend’s pale big-eared bats, spotted bats, western red bats and Yuma myotis.

No one knows much about the toll the windmills may take on bats. Some preliminary studies indicate relatively high bat mortality rates. The windmills could take a heavy toll on other birds, especially those migrating in flocks through the area. However, the flyways are more likely to follow the canyons than to go through the middle of the wind farm, the survey concluded.

The preliminary survey noted that “the project area does not contain habitats that would concentrate migrant birds” although the adjacent canyons could provide stopover resting areas for migrants.

Curiously enough, ravens rarely fly into windmills.

Maybe they warn each other.

Photos by Laura Singleton/The Independent  

A mother and baby enter the Polar Express reading.

Save the Digester

PINETOP-LAKESIDE — The Pinetop-Lakeside Sanitary District’s (PLSD) Nov. 13 board meeting listed as an agenda item, “Discussion and possible action regarding the Rotary Biomixer and the demolition of or possible sale of the equipment.” The minutes, which were posted after they were approved at the Dec. 11, board meeting, stated, “By consensus there was no action taken.” That was not what circulated in the community following the November meeting. As a result, the December meeting was filled with concerned people who came to listen and/or to be heard.

Barbara Bruce / Barbara Bruce/The Independent  

Conducting business before a packed room at the Pinetop-Lakeside Sanitary District Board meeting on Dec. 11 — a packed room being far from the norm — board members and staff listened as 10 people came forward to speak at Call to the Public. The common thread of those speaking was more communication from PLSD, concerns over the digester being replaced and the creation of an advisory board.

In a Dec. 8, Facebook post on Neighbors Helping Neighbors in the White Mountains’ page, a post by Larry Rom wrote, “Want to ask if you have heard that the Pinetop-Lakeside Sanitary District (PLSD) Board of Directors voted to shut down the digester at the Nov. 2019 PLSD Board meeting? I can barely believe this is happening, and have been in shock since I heard the news. What a waste of $3.4M of taxpayers money, AND a successful community recycling outlet. I think the public should demand an explanation and, hopefully, a re-vote. I’m organizing a “Save the Digester” group. Our group has come up with 31 comments/questions for PLSD Board at (the) next PLSD Board Mtg. This particular meeting is at 6 p.m. Dec. 11. We will speak during their “Call to the Public” (when each person is allowed 3 minutes to speak). We need concerned citizens to help show support and to help us present the questions by reading some of them during the Call to the Public. If you are a concerned citizen, as I believe you are, can you help us?”

The Dec. 11 meeting was packed. Ten people came forward to speak at Call to the Public, the first being Gary Atkin, who is retired from 40 years in the water and wastewater industry — which happens to include a stint serving the PLSD board as its district manager from 1999 to 2001. Atkin was the first to address what the subsequent speakers alleged as PLSD’s need to communicate with the public. With District Manager David Smith’s personnel review also listed on the evening’s agenda, Atkin suggested that as part of Smith’s evaluation, the board should focus on communication. He also suggested the formation of a citizen’s advisory group stating, “I do not know how many times you get this many people out to a meeting.” He offered to be part of such an advisory group.

Following Atkin, nine other avid supporters of the digester and composting took their three minute turns to address issues regarding communication with the public as well as going on record with their inquiries and concerns regarding composting, whether or not the digester was still operating or was out of service, whether such problems are technical, financial or mechanical, and also making requests for records and data which led to the consideration of retiring the digester and selling or demolishing it.

Open Meeting Law (OML) prohibits the board from discussing or taking any action on any item raised at call to the public, but in Smith’s agendized report to the board, he did provide an update on items listed on the agenda for his report — collections, the treatment plant, composting and an update on composting equipment. He made a point of frequently looking to the district’s attorney to ensure he was not violating OML. It was at this time Smith make a clarification regarding the digester, saying, “It is a mixer and not a digester – a rotary biomixer and there is about a dozen in North America; one in Australia.”

File Photo by Andy Towle, 2006 

Material in the grinder/digester is dropped onto another conveyor and moved to another pile. It will ferment there until it is ready for separation of the inorganic compounds: glass, metal, plastic and other materials.

Smith said that they have been using the mixer for 16 years now and there are 76 bars which go around it; they started at 2 inches, he said, and are now at 5/8 or 11/16 and are 125 feet long. The estimate to replace them is $197,000 to $270,000. He added that “they are too thin to weld.”

“Never said we were stopping (composting),” said Smith, just doing it differently.”

Smith said there is no market for a used digester and they are just taking one piece of equipment and trading it for another.

Smith invited people to talk to him. “Am I that scary a guy?” He said he is at PLSD Monday through Thursday beginning at 7 a.m., and that he would even make himself available on Friday.

“We may disagree, but I think we are all adults. I may learn something; you may learn something.”

Later in the week Smith told the Independent “On the surface it all looks good – save the world. How much energy are you using to do this? There is good and bad in it.”

A few days after the board meeting, PLSD Board Member Chris Kengla said, “A large number of those people (at Call to the Public) know who I am and where I am; (it was) done on a mob mentality. Not one has made an effort to contact us.”

“The bottom line is I am green,” continued Kengla. “I have been fighting for the compost for this side of the deal. I always said, over my dead body, but I am for using different cheaper technology. I have been composting for years. Tubes are not efficient. Nobody is getting rid of it. The rotary mixer is a jaded cow. It is not efficient. The carbon footprint is using too much electricity. As to communication, that is false and is not warranted. Anyone can stop in my place of business.

“The digester is still up and running; it still has useful life but we are moving toward different technology to do the same thing – trying to find new technology cuts a fraction of the cost of electricity.

“Dave said there are 12 (rotary biomixers) but I think there is like 5. Luke Air Force Base wanted to put one in but felt it was not efficient. We are talking and playing it smart.”

The day following the PLSD board meeting Atkin went to the PLSD office with four requests for information and met with Mark Heberer, PLSD’s financial manager; he returned on Dec. 16 to get the requested information and said Heberer took him in to meet with Dave Smith to answer some of his questions. At that time Smith invited him to tour the biomixer.

Atkin said that the new technology that will replace the digester has already been ordered and paid for, but not delivered.

It was also on the Dec. 16 visit to PLSD that Atkin dropped off five letters to the board with an additional for Smith. Atkin’s correspondence dealt with a Dec. 10 post made by PLSD on their Facebook (FB) page, and the subsequent removal of Atkin’s reply post which advised readers of the Save the Digest group inviting them to their page if they wanted more information.

Atkin and his wife, Ellen, are administrators of the Save the Digester FB page where there is currently 32 members and almost double that of previewers. Anyone can find the page, but only a person who has joined the group can see who is in the group or what they post.

Smith told the Independent that he was the author of the Dec. 10 FB post. He said that upon hearing misinformation in the community, “I was just trying to get some information out there — just trying to give an explanation; I did not think it was an appropriate place for them to be advertising on our site.”

“I am in my office four days a week,” explained Smith; if they had come to my office a week ahead (of the board meeting), maybe I could have answered 90% of their questions. I do not feel their approach was appropriate.”

The rotary biomixer in question, commonly referred to as the digester by the community, was purchased in 2003 at a cost of $2.23 million for the whole digester facility. In 2006 it was said to be the only digester west of the Mississippi River and a model of environmental effectiveness – so much so that other countries have come to PLSD to tour the facility.

The next meeting of the PLSD board is on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at 6 p.m. More information is on their website at www.plsd.com.

No gift wrap needed

WHITE MOUNTAINS — “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” said the very outspoken Jo, in Louisa Mae Alcott’s “Little Women.” But, those of us that understand the meaning of Christmas know that some of the most memorable gifts we receive do not come wrapped or placed under a tree. As a matter of fact, author Janice Maeditere said, “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.”

Several White Mountain residents received unwrapped gifts this year that opened their hearts.

Aaron Hatch of Taylor

“As I thought about the gifts I’ve received this year, I tried to recall each wrapped box and tissue paper filled bag, but found myself side-tracked by much simpler things. I’m distracted by experiences that I’d forgotten, and at the time didn’t consider gifts; a phone call from a friend to ask how I’m feeling, a sincere compliment, an invitation to lunch, spending time talking and laughing about silly things, quiet conversations about serious things. I’m reminded that the people around me give the gift of their time each and every day. This year the best gift I received was love and friendship and the gift of quality time.”

Jeff Farmer of Vernon

“I have so many wonderful blessings this year, it is hard to pick a favorite, but there was a picture, a very close friend shared with me. It was a picture of the West sky, this past spring, just 2 weeks after my mother past away, at 88 yrs old, leaving 4 children, several grandchildren and a number of great grandchildren. The picture was of some really beautiful cloud formations, right about sunset. In those clouds, several other people noticed, there was a face of a woman. When I saw it, it looked just like my mom when she was in her early 20s, just before I was born. But wait! That is not all. Just above her young pretty face, just over her left ear, was my father, also looking about like he did in early wedding pictures! If you think this story is done, oh, but no! Just behind him, almost as it were a line of other cousins and family, who I could actually recognize, in the cloud formations as they may have been waiting to greet her in the heavens! One sister even saw a dog and some others who saw the man at first, said they saw the face of a lion in him. I could see that also, and it really truly seemed as though he had the ability to change his appearance. Their countenance was magnificent! How can I ask for a greater blessing, than to see such a vision of my mother being greeted by my father and other loved ones as if it were a picture of them all in Heaven? I have had many blessings this year, but that..... well, how can I ask for better?”

Vandee Flake

of Snowflake

“Ours has been the opportunity to travel. Our family really enjoyed Yellowstone and seeing the amazing landscape. I also felt an imminence of gratitude that national parks have been preserved and protected for all these years. We have an incredible country. Some of these national parks are so amazing. My challenge to everyone is to take time in 2020 to experience a national park. Growing up we lived within driving distance but never made it a priority. We also enjoyed the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest. 2019 was a gift and I’m grateful for the lessons learned and the beauty we enjoyed.”

Billie Bowlin of Pinetop-Lakeside

“When I think of gifts I do not think of material things, I think of blessings. My best gift this year was to have the opportunity help make a difference in our community, even if the difference was small. And to have my family and community friends by my side through it all. From serving Thanksgiving dinner to our Veterans, participating in helping a Veteran that was going across country have food and community support, to delivering surprise Christmas baskets to Seniors who may have not received any other gifts and knowing their community cares about them. Having instilled these community values in my child and grandchildren is truly my best gift of all along with my very patient husband who understands what these blessings mean to me and helps me along the way. Merry Christmas!!!”

Reba Serrano

of Lakeside

“The best gift Jim and I received this year was the gift of life. May 6th was the determining life change for all of us. Jim has progressed amazingly through love, prayers, therapy and family. Our holiday right now is with family. Another great gift. Things will never be the same but, who says the same is better. Our life is blessed with the prayers, love and care of community and family.”

Kyle Peck of Taylor

“As the Holiday approaches I always reflect on all that I have been blessed with and the gifts i have received throughout the year. My mind instantly falls on the gift of life, health and happiness. The new beginning of life and fading of an old, yet fulfilled life. The life of a beautiful new nephew and the passing of an friend and mentor. In a few short weeks i will be taken back to the loss of a young boy, a stranger really, but one who would alter my life forever - that through the fading of his life, my life would be renewed, and made new. We are blessed daily with precious gifts. They are everywhere you look and everywhere you go. May we focus on these gifts and give thanks for all we have and all we have been blessed with.”