Fuji XPRO 1
By Olivier Uyttebrouck / Journal Staff Writer
PUBLISHED: Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 12:05 am
Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
CHURCHROCK – Decades of uranium mining during the Cold War have transformed Annie Benally’s life-long home on the Navajo Nation into a moonscape of giant earthen piles contaminated by radioactive dirt and rock pulled up from deep shafts.
Evidence of past efforts to remediate contamination pock the landscape along Redwater Pond Road near Churchrock, where Kerr-McGee Corp. and United Nuclear Corp. operated two of the nation’s largest uranium mines in the 1970s and 1980s.
Navajo Nation officials say they are hopeful that a ruling handed down in December by a New York judge will provide up to $2.4 billion to clean up the former Churchrock Quivira mine and 48 other abandoned uranium mines once operated by Kerr-McGee Corp. in New Mexico and Arizona.
In his ruling, the judge found that Kerr-McGee had fraudulently shifted its liabilities to another company to make Kerr-McGee a more valuable to a buyer.
The judgment would also provide funds to clean up the Shiprock Mill, a massive uranium processing site in Shiprock.
Benally said years of patchwork efforts to fix uranium contamination at Churchrock mine sites have made her and her neighbors skeptical that a lasting solution is forthcoming.
Current plans call for Redwater Pond Road residents to move from the area in 2018 while contamination at one of the two giant mine sites is moved off site.
“I don’t think it’s ever going to happen,” said Benally, a member of the Redwater Pond Community Association. “They do a little bit at a time. They just keep playing with us.”
Benally points to a gravel road made of tons of discarded uranium ore. Two years ago, a private company tried to clean up the contamination.
“They anticipated they were going to take two or three feet of waste, but they kept digging and digging and digging pretty soon we had a big ditch,” she said. “It was all contaminated.”
Benally and her neighbors believe the dust that blows off the huge piles of radioactive material left from more than a decade of mining activity in the 1970s and 1980s is causing health problems for residents and their children.
Billions at stake
On Dec. 12, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper of the Southern District of New York ruled that Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the parent company of Kerr-McGee Corp., owes damages ranging from $5.2 billion to $14.2 billion to the Navajo Nation, at least a dozen states and other claimants across the U.S. stuck with environmentally damaged sites.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates the Navajo Nation’s share of the judgment at between $880 million and $2.4 billion.
“A billion dollars would help,” said Dave Taylor, an attorney and uranium specialist for the Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice. “It would really get us off the ground.”
A lack of funding has for decades stalled the reclamation of abandoned uranium mines and mills that shed radioactive waste into the environment, he said.
About 20 percent of the final settlement amount will be paid to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pay for cleanup at 50 former Kerr-McGee sites in New Mexico and Arizona, including the Shiprock Mill, Taylor said.
The precise amount of the settlement will be determined by ongoing litigation in the bankruptcy case.
Anadarko Petroleum did not respond to requests for comment this week. The company has said it contests Gropper’s ruling and plans to appeal.
John Hueston, a Los Angeles attorney who represents the Navajo Nation and other claimants, said he expects litigation to continue for at least a year.
“I can say on behalf of the beneficiaries that they are willing to stand and fight because of what’s at stake and because of the size of the victory,” Hueston said in a phone interview.
The scope of Kerr-McGee’s uranium operations on the Navajo Nation offers a variety of monumental cleanup challenges.
Kerr-McGee processed uranium ore at its massive Shiprock Mill, where a 1.5 million-ton tailings pile looms over the San Juan River, within a few miles of Shiprock’s 8,000 residents.
And about 40 miles southwest of Shiprock, near Cove, Ariz., miners tunneled more than two-dozen Kerr-McGee mines into the rugged Lucachukai Mountains, some in areas so remote that access by vehicle is difficult and dangerous.
Overburden from the mines was trucked into the valley where today it forms huge piles in the Cove community.
Alberta Tsosie, whose father died at age 45 after working in the mines, contends that water from the mines flows into the valley, poisoning livestock and wildlife.
Absent from the list of Kerr-McGee claimants is the state of New Mexico, Heuston said. He does not know if New Mexico tried to file a claim in the bankruptcy.
Kerr-McGee operated uranium mining and milling operations at Ambrosia Lake near Grants from the late 1950s until 1988, according to a corporate prospectus. Activists say they urged state officials in 2009 to file a claim in the bankruptcy to seek funding for remediation at the site.
Bill Brancard, general council for Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said that Rio Algom became the owner of the Ambrosia Lake operations when it purchased the Quivira Mining Corp. from Kerr-McGee in 1989. State officials determined that “there were no significant liabilities out there associated with Kerr-McGee under our laws,” Brancard said Friday.
U.S.: Company committed fraud
The New York bankruptcy case centers on a chemical company called Tronox Inc., which was spun off by Kerr-McGee Corp. in 2005.
In 2006, Kerr-McGee was acquired by Anadarko Petroleum.
Tronox Inc. filed for bankruptcy in January 2009. As part of the bankruptcy proceedings, Tronox and the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against Kerr-McGee.
The lawsuit alleged that Kerr-McGee fraudulently transferred to Tronox billions of dollars of environmental liabilities to increase Kerr-McGee’s value to Anadarko.
In his ruling, Gropper agreed that Kerr-McGee’s actions were fraudulent and left Tronox insolvent.
“Kerr-McGee was trying to cleanse their crown jewel assets – the oil and gas assets – of all the environmental liabilities, which made Kerr-McGee an unattractive acquisition up to that point,” Hueston said.
The 50 Navajo Nation sites included in the Tronox settlement include the Shiprock Mill site, which contains an estimated 1.5 million tons of tailings left by the processing of uranium ore, Taylor said. The remaining sites are abandoned uranium mines.
The sites included in the Tronox settlement comprise only a fraction of the estimated 521 abandoned uranium mines scattered across the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, Arizona, and southern Utah, he said.
Cleanup scope unknown
The scope and cost of the cleanup will depend on the volume of material found at the sites, which remains largely undetermined, Taylor said.
“You never know what the final volume is until you get out there and start digging almost,” he said.
A five-year plan completed last year provided an “initial rough survey” of abandoned uranium mines in Navajo country, with some estimates about the amount of material they contain, he said.
“The fact of the matter is, we’re still pretty clueless what the total volume of contaminated materials is in Navajo Indian country,” Taylor said. “The biggest problem we have out here is trying to get a grasp on the volume, because volume drives cost.”
Before cleanups can begin, officials first must characterize the sites, which will require years of work, Taylor said.
“You can’t jump in and start digging dirt anywhere,” Taylor said. Even if funds were available tomorrow, he said, “it will be several years before the cleanups on those sites really will get into gear.”
The EPA, the Navajo Nation, and corporations have performed some remediation at several sites. The Churchrock Quivira Mine site is further along than any of the Tronox sites, Taylor said. “Even there, there has been no final decision about what the remedy will be,” he said.
But Taylor said the Navajo Nation and the EPA believe that a final settlement in the Tronox case will allow sites to be fully cleaned up.
“Planning is not going to consume all that money,” he said. “We’re going to clean up sites and get them completed if we get that money.”
The Tronox sites include 11 mines in the nation’s Eastern Agency, located northwest of Grants, he said.
The Eastern Agency sites include the Churchrock Quivira mine, located about 15 miles northeast of Gallup, which contains about 100,000 cubic yards of contaminated material, Taylor said.
The remaining 38 mines are located in the Navajo Nation’s Northern Agency, which straddles the Arizona-New Mexico border. Of those, 10 mines lie in New Mexico and 28 in Arizona, including the Cove area mines, he said.
I've been covering the events for the newspaper regarding the death of a nine year old boy who was killed byhis mother on Dec. 27th , 2013. This past Saturday neighbors and concerned citizens got together to hold a candlelight vigil for the victim and needless to say, this community is still in shock that such a horrible event took place when there were so many signs pointing to the fact that this kid needed help.
CIUDAD JUÃREZ – “I cried myself to sleep that night thinking I had made the biggest mistake in the world. I cried because I felt stupid, homesick, spoiled, lost, sheltered, weak, and most of all scared (expletive) of what was to come.”
Emily Bonderer Cruz left her home in Arizona to start a new life in this border city three years ago with her husband, Raymundo, even as thousands of people were fleeing this same city at the height of a violent drug war.
The Cruzes found themselves trapped in a little-known purgatory of the U.S. immigration system, along with an unknown number of other couples advocates say could number in the thousands or tens of thousands. She is a U.S. citizen; he is Mexican. When the two met in 2005, Raymundo was working without legal documents and had crossed into the United States illegally twice – landing him with a lifetime ban from the country that, despite their later marriage, made him ineligible to apply for a pardon for a decade. The 10-year clock would only start ticking once he left the country.
So, the couple packed their possessions and, in 2010, drove through New Mexico into Texas and over the border to wait it out.
And blog about it.
Sharp-tongued and witty, Emily curses liberally in English and Spanish, and launched a blog that would eventually draw media attention and become a point of reference for other couples living in Ciudad Juárez and other border towns under similar circumstances: The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juárez. She vents, she marvels, she agonizes, but she also makes the best of what many have described as a sad and bitter situation.
“I could be pissed off all the time and angry at my country all the time, and run around Juárez with a frown on my face and be angry at the world,” she said one recent afternoon in an interview at her home. “Ideally, I didn’t want to be here. But life isn’t … . You don’t always get what you want.”
She ended her first blog post in August 2010, about the night she cried herself to sleep, with a repetition like a mantra, as if to convince herself, “This is a romantic adventure. This is a romantic adventure. This is a romantic adventure.”
‘ To go back and start over’
Emily Cruz isn’t a housewife. She and her husband live largely off what she makes working in El Paso in administration, while Raymundo works long hours at a maquiladora assembling auto harnesses for about 600 pesos per week, roughly $46. That is a “big difference,” he said, from the $600 he earned weekly making ice cream at a restaurant in Arizona.
“For us, it is really a moral issue,” said Randall Emery, president of American Families United, which is lobbying Congress to relax the laws that dictate yearslong or lifetime bans for immigration violations. “Here you have people who may have done something in the past, but they have left to do things the right way. People have suffered tremendously and will continue to suffer until there is some kind of resolution.”
New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce has co-sponsored a bill, H.R. 3431, with Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke, that would grant authorities greater discretion in reviewing past minor or technical immigration violations, or those that occurred when the spouse was underage.
Pearce, who opposes a Senate bill that takes a broad approach to immigration reform, says he would prefer to see reform happen piecemeal, starting with an issue such as the plight of married couples like Emily and Raymundo Cruz.
“I feel that we ought to be taking this thing in bite-sized chunks instead of in big packages,” he said.
While it is unlikely that immigration legislation, large or small, will get aired in the House of Representatives until later in 2014, Pearce said legislators who have reviewed the bill, “no matter their political affiliation, they think this is a case of doing the right thing.”
The number of undocumented immigrants who are ineligible for residency despite being married to a U.S. citizen is unknown, but it’s possible to get a sense of how many people are affected: Some 9 million people belong to a family that includes at least one adult unauthorized to live in the U.S. and one U.S. citizen child, according to the Pew Research Center.
Shawna Avila considers New Mexico her “home base.” She and her husband are among the unknown number of couples who have chosen to stay in the U.S. in hopes that the law might change. Her husband, Roberto, first crossed illegally from Mexico to the U.S. when he was 17, did so more than once, and is ineligible to apply for residency although they have been married for more than six years. Shawna says that, because her parents live in New Mexico, she shared her story with Pearce.
“Even though he was very conservative, he seemed to have a willingness to listen to individual stories on immigration,” she said.
Her parents live in Quemado, Catron County, where she is now moving with her newborn.
The limitations Roberto faces as an undocumented immigrant have kept them apart for the past two years. It made it difficult for him to follow her to Miami, where she was pursuing a doctoral degree in sociology before their daughter was born. Now, he has a higher paying job in Tennessee that would not be available in New Mexico.
“We’ve gone through many ups and downs through the years,” Shawna said. ” … I’ve supported immigration reform ever since I found out about it.”
‘Feel more free’ in Juárez
On the other side of the border, Raymundo – who describes himself as serious and Emily as the fun one who brings the “party” home – worries about safety. He was picked up by thugs in downtown Juárez when he first arrived, dragged into a basement and beaten, and says he is still scared to go out. He is studying for a high school diploma and wants to go to college. But most of all, he wants to return to the U.S.
“The truth is, I would like to go back and start over and work,” he said. “I love it. I really like the United States. It’s not that I don’t like Mexico, but I feel that there are more opportunities there. I feel safer; I feel better there.”
But they live in Juárez and seem determined to explore the city’s sunny side, despite Raymundo’s well-founded fears and a tight budget.
Emily recently posted a “Weekend in Pictures,” which included a snapshot of a soda machine with a five-step how-to that had her in stitches; stills from a movie she watched; stray dogs in a convenience store parking lot; artistic graffiti on a cement-block wall; a picnic in Chamizal park and a horseback ride; eating food samples at Sam’s Club; and sneaking around the side of a blue-and-white striped circus tent to get a glimpse of the animals (she blogged that they didn’t have the cash to attend).
They might be simple pleasures, but they contrast with the constrained life she felt forced to live in the U.S.
“We couldn’t live our life there,” she said. “We didn’t feel comfortable doing anything. We wouldn’t go to a birthday party, because there might be like a checkpoint … . I feel much more free here.”
‘It’s all real’
Emily doesn’t want or expect to be a symbol for immigration reform. She writes openly about a past methamphetamine addiction (she has been sober from drugs for seven years but still drinks “like a fish”); a post called “Sexico” about sex and Mexico is one of her most popular; she never graduated from college; and doesn’t clean up her language much.
But her candid way of writing about her experience, her largely positive attitude about Juárez and her hope that she might have a chance to bring her husband to the U.S. in the future have inspired others. Comments on her blog from other “exiles” in Mexico constantly thank her, sympathize with her, cheer her on.
Veronica Perez moved to Juárez in March 2013, after she married her husband Roberto, who is from Mexico City. He had a couple of illegal crossings in his past; they applied for a pardon and it was initially granted, then taken away. When questioned about crossing illegally, Roberto answered honestly and U.S. authorities gave him a lifetime ban.
Devastated and having spent their $10,000 in savings on the paperwork, the couple decided to “leave a nice, comfortable life” in Austin to wait for reform, or a chance at a waiver after 10 years, in Juárez.
Veronica, a graduate of New Mexico State University, struggled to find a white-collar job in El Paso, so she works in landscaping “wearing a safety vest and a hard hat and some boots” while Roberto earns $100 a week roofing in Juárez.
“We’re both very bitter,” she said in a telephone interview. “We tried to go the legal path. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t.”
She describes how “disheartening” it was when they first arrived in Juárez, how both struggled with their decision and the marriage suffered. Then a friend sent her a link to The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juárez “and the dark clouds went away.”
Emily “brought a lot of peace into our hearts,” she said. “There were other couples there, some she already knew and some who contacted her through her blog.”
Several women met and exchanged stories.
“It’s comical and it’s sad, and, at the end, it’s all real,” she said. “Finding these other ladies, it brought a little hope to us.”
Emily says today that living in Juárez has “completely changed” her by teaching patience – especially in the inevitable long lines at the international bridges – and putting what she has into perspective.
She wrote last month, “I could survive on nothing more than Coke Zero, brandy, sausage, egg and cheese biscuits, chicken wings, calzones and Tin Roof Sundae ice cream. And love. Everybody needs a little love.”
This is Emily's blog: http://therealhousewifeofciudadjuarez.blogspot.com/
BITES FROM THE BLOG
What “The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juárez” has to say in her blog about:
“When I began to live half my life speaking only Spanish, it was only natural that I began to swear in my second language as well … much to my husband’s disgust. He says my choice of words embarrasses him, that I sound like a naca, a cualquiera, a callajera. Ghetto. … You know, when I am speaking to people, sometimes I see a gleam in Ray’s eyes. A little glint of pride behind all of his embarrassment. Maybe it’s because he’s proud of my Spanish even though he doesn’t approve of my choice of words. Maybe it’s because he wishes he could express himself so freely, even to strangers. I’m not sure. All I know is that this is me, and everyone is going to have to just take it or leave it.”
— Sunday, December 14, 2013, “The V Word”
“We have family traditions. Even though we are just a scrape of a family, here on the border, hundreds of miles from my family in the US, hundreds of miles from my husband’s family in Mexico. We are still a family. Every Tuesday, we have ‘Midweek Movie Night.’ The tradition probably came from the fact that Redbox has new releases every Tuesday. Yes, in a country where pirated movies are sold on every corner and cost less than an item from the 99 Cents Only store, we still splurge for a rental once a week.”
— Saturday, November 2, 2013, “Naufragos Y Inmigrantes”
“Hi, my name is Emily and I am a Nutellaholic. The discovery of the Kinder Bueno solidified my addiction to sugar and hazelnuts in a way I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. Our friends over at Ferrero describe this candy as a hazelnut cream filled wafer with a chocolate covering. I think a more accurate description would be ‘God Himself hugged by a crispy coat of angelic perfection and dipped in orgasms.’
I guess that’s why I’m not in advertising.”
— Sunday, December 15, 2012, “My Top 10 Mexican Junk Foods”
“The (Rescue) mission (which serves the homeless) is located smack dab on the US/Mexico border, just steps away from The Border Highway. You could spit and it would land in Juarez. I became overwhelmed with the idea of what it would be like to grow up on the other side of that line in the sand, where the only things that separate you from opportunity are some green and white SUVs, a piece of paper and a whole lot of politics. … I imagined what it would be like to dream of having an education and all the opportunities that the US provides, and it all being so close you can almost taste it. I imagined what it would be like to be a little kid, living in a cardboard house, looking to the US with a fire in my eyes … pining after a better life.”
— Wednesday, December 21, 2011, “Rescue Mission”
WINSLOW, Ariz. – The Rev. Clement Hageman was among at least a dozen priests in the Diocese of Gallup who have been identified in lawsuits or news reports as having had “credible allegations” of sexual abuse made against them.
Seven of those priests had been posted in Winslow.
Three men who say they were sexually abused by Hageman in the 1960s and 1970s agreed to speak with the Journal last week in Winslow at Madre de Dios Church, which all three attended as boys and the site of most of the abuse.
Joseph Baca, who was among the first to sign a settlement agreement with the diocese in 2004, says he paid a steep price for the sexual abuse he experienced as a boy there.
Baca, 55, said he lost much of his life to alcoholism and drug addiction, and became alienated from his parents, who refused to believe his reports of sex abuse by Hageman in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“It was taboo to talk about priests, let alone about sexual abuse,” said Baca, who said he was repeatedly raped from the of age of 9 to 13, starting in 1966 when Hageman became pastor of Madre de Dios.
Joseph Baca stands between the headstones of his parents, right, and the Rev. Clement Hageman, left, who Baca said sexually abused him as a boy. Baca said his parents were so devoted to Hageman that his mother bought the adjoining burial plots after the priest died in 1975. Visiting his parents’ graves is emotionally difficult, he said. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
Hageman first came to the Diocese of Gallup in 1940 – and even then, there were allegations of improper behavior.
Then-Archbishop of Santa Fe Rudolf Gerken assigned Hageman to a mission in Smith Lake, near Thoreau, in the newly formed Diocese of Gallup, according to lawsuits.
Gerken told newly installed Gallup Bishop Bernard Espelage that Hageman had been forced to leave a diocese in Texas because he was “guilty of playing with boys,” Espelage wrote in a letter obtained through the lawsuits.
Hageman was a priest in the Gallup diocese from 1940 until his death in 1975, and was assigned to parishes in Thoreau, N.M., and three Arizona parishes in Winslow, Holbrook and Kingman.
The suits contend that Hageman sexually assaulted six boys in several parishes, often providing them with alcohol, and inviting them on trips and sleepovers.
Baca described his parents as “stout Catholics” who were active in the Winslow parish.
Baca’s mother was so devoted to Hageman that she bought burial plots for herself and her husband next to the Winslow gravesite where the priest was buried in 1975.
“That’s how close they were,” Baca said. “I have to live with that if I go to Winslow to visit my parents’ graves.”
Paul Jaramillo, 50, of Winslow said he was raped repeatedly by Hageman while he served as an altar boy at Madre de Dios from age 10 to 12.
As an altar boy, Jaramillo said he was forced to leave church services through the rectory, Hageman’s residence, attached to the back of Madre de Dios Church. Hageman invariably locked the door of the rectory to prevent Jaramillo’s escape, he said.
The final time he was molested, Jaramillo said he escaped by bolting out the door of the rectory when Hageman answered the telephone.
Paul Jaramillo, 50, stands beside the former rectory of Madre de Dios Church in Winslow where Jaramillo said he was sexually abused by the Rev. Clement Hageman. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
“I had to do it all fast,” he recalled. The boy was barely able to reach a chain on the door and unlock a dead bolt before Hageman dashed after him, Jaramillo said. “He still almost caught me as I was running out,” he said. “He grabbed my arm. I yanked so hard I did a flip, like a roll.” Jaramillo ran from the church and never returned, he said.
Jaramillo said he doesn’t know what gave him the courage to escape Hageman that day.
“All I know is I saw what was developing,” he said. Jaramillo had hoped the abuse would end, but instead it became more severe over time, he said. “At that point, I just decided I’m not going to come back, and I didn’t.”
The diocese settled with Baca in 2004 and with Jaramillo in 2008, both for undisclosed amounts of money, they said. A third of Hageman’s victims, Frank Gonzales, 63, of Winslow, said he settled with the diocese in 2011 for an undisclosed amount.
The diocese “told us they were going bankrupt, so I just signed, and bye-bye,” Gonzales said.
All three were clients of the late James Zorigian, a Los Angeles attorney who obtained an unknown number of settlements with the diocese. He died May 21.
Zorigian filed no lawsuits and provided no public information about his clients, he told The Gallup Independent in 2011. He simply contacted the diocese, which interviewed his clients and negotiated a settlement.
Baca, now of Phoenix, said he doesn’t know how many cases the diocese has settled. But he believes that Winslow alone is home to at least 200 sex abuse victims, based on his personal knowledge of the community.
“Many don’t want to come forward,” he said. “Quite a few” abuse victims are in prison, homeless or addicted to drugs or alcohol. Others remain devoted Catholics and don’t want to speak out, he said.
“I imagine there will be a few more come forward” as the bankruptcy proceeds, Baca said.
Today was a great day to cover the Veterans Day ceremonies in Albuquerque.