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New focus is redoing Mason Pit project

FRUITLAND – Workers at Navajo Mine are trying to catch up on reclamation work while also redoing some previous reclamation projects.

Navajo Transitional Energy Company, which owns the mine, contracts with Bisti Fuels – a subsidiary of North American Coal Corporation – for operations of the mine.

Since 2017, NTEC has spent millions of dollars on equipment and Bisti Fuels has hired nearly 100 employees to focus on reclamation at the mine. The goal is to reclaim areas immediately after mining finishes in those parts and to finish by 2030.

Senior Reclamation Engineer Shawn Smith said crews will need to move between 100 million and 120 million yards of dirt in the upcoming decade to meet the 2030 goal.

Currently, crews are filling in pits that were left open when Arizona Public Service Company was considering placing fly ash in them prior to reclamation. That practice is currently done at the nearby San Juan Mine. Ultimately, APS chose a different solution for the fly ash and those pits remained open at the mine.

Reclamation crews are also redoing decades old reclamation work at the Mason Pit because the previous techniques were not working. The original reclamation of the Mason Pit involved building a large, terraced hill. The pit was filled in and seeds were scattered on the hill in 1985. Then, in 1993, seeds were scattered once again.

Generally, a decade after the reclamation is completed it is released from federal jurisdiction. Mason Pit has not been under jurisdiction since 2004.

Smith said since 2004 the terraces have begun filling with sediment and erosion has become a problem.

“This isn’t reclamation we are required to do,” said Andy Hawkins, community engagement manager for Bisti Fuels.

Now the crews have designed a contoured landscape that includes winding channels rather than straight channels for water to run through. The flowing contours are designed to reduce the amount of erosion.

As part of new reclamation at Mason Pit, crews also relocated and improved the Table Mesa Road, which is used by community members.

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