BLACK MESA, Ariz. - The gigantic earth-moving crane sits idle, a 5,500-ton behemoth stilled by a legal, cultural and environmental dispute playing out far from the rich vein of coal beneath the desert of remote northeastern Arizona.
The rig, known as a dragline, may never again scrape the earth's surface at the Black Mesa Mine to get at the coal beneath the Hopi and Navajo lands.
Some welcome the idling of the earth-gobbling beast, a symbol, they say, of the rape of the land and precious water below. Others, mostly American Indians who have come to depend on the high-paying jobs at the mine, are furious.
For 35 years, the Black Mesa Mine has produced coal for a power plant in southern Nevada. But it suspended operations at the end of December, ending the jobs of nearly 200 people.
Most of them are members of the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe whose livelihood and dreams depend on work at the mine, jobs that pay as much as $80,000 a year in wages and benefits, 10 times the average annual income on the reservations.
The mine is ceasing work indefinitely because the sole power plant it supplies, the Mohave Generating Station 273 miles away in Laughlin, Nev., is shutting down under a legal agreement with environmental groups that sued because of repeated pollution violations.