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Public concerned about Navajo coal mine deal

SHIPROCK, N.M. -- Members of the Navajo Nation told energy officials on Friday that there has not been enough transparency surrounding the purchase of a coal mine in northwestern New Mexico.

At a meeting at the Shiprock Chapter House with the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, some residents said they were dismayed that no public meetings were held prior to the deal, the Daily Times reported.

Victoria Gutierrez, member of the TsÚ Alnaozt'i'Ý Chapter, said the whole purchase felt "rushed through."

"The Navajo people are stakeholders, why are there only four meetings throughout the whole reservation?" Gutierrez said. "They should be going to all 110 chapters, informing the Navajo people on what's going on."

NTEC interim CEO Sam Woods said he planned to hold meetings every quarter and they would be scheduled around the availability of chapter houses.

The tribe formed Navajo Transitional Energy Co. LLC last year to look into buying the Navajo Mine near Farmington, which produces up to 8.5 million tons of coal annually.

It is the sole provider of coal to the nearby Four Corners Power Plant, which provides electricity to about 300,000 households in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The Navajo Nation Council and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly approved Navajo Transitional Energy's purchase in April 2013 of the Navajo Mine from Australian-based BHP Billiton. In December, NTEC signed off on the agreement with Arizona Public Service Co. to keep providing coal from the mine to the plant.

The Navajo Nation is paying for the coal mine with profits from the mine. BHP will manage it until 2016, when the Navajo Nation will have to find a new manager.

Craig Moyer, an attorney at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips who served as the Navajo Nation's lead counsel in the deal, said previously that the tribe should see $100 million a year in taxes and royalties from the coal mine and power plant.

Woods said five Navajo Nation Council delegates serve as shareholder representatives. They were chosen from the tribal council's standing committees and it being an election year should not affect their ability to serve, he said.

Sarah White, a Tiis Tsoh Sikaad Chapter member, said she is concerned that the mine may not live up production expectations touted by its supporters.

"I think the communities would have made a better decision in purchasing this mine than the few groups of council delegates who made the decision. That is why it bothers the people," she said.

Woods said the project could bring in partnerships with additional companies since NTEC is required to invest 10 percent of its net income in research and renewable energy projects. He said a new CEO would be chosen in the coming weeks.

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