The Navajo Generating Station was memorialized last week with ceremonies at Page City Hall and Coconino Community College Page Center.
The ceremonies were held on Nov. 14, starting at Page City Hall, where Mayor Bill Diak officially dedicated the Boiler Tube Slot Canyon sculpture.
The sculpture was installed in February 2022 along the walkway between the City Hall parking lot and Memorial Plaza. It was part of an art project initiated by Shane Jones of Salt River Project (SRP) in 2019 to memorialize the soon-to-close Navajo Generating Station (NGS) operated by SRP.
The artwork was created by NGS employee Jarvison Littlesunday and consists of a series of 20-to-25-foot-long boiler tubes salvaged from one of the NGS stacks after it went offline.
The tubes have been bent, welded together and painted different colors that evoke the region’s varied rocks. The installation is intended to create the impression of walking through a slot canyon.
At last week’s ceremony, Jones said that in the spring of 2019, he asked the owners of NGS if something could be done to commemorate the plant. Once approval was given, he sent out an email asking for ideas and received 23 responses. After some consideration, they settled on Littlesunday’s Boiler Tube Slot Canyon artwork.
“Unit 3 was the first unit to come down. It came down in September , so we had to kind of scramble because we only had a couple months to try to pull this thing together,” Jones said.
“We had to go out into the boiler, retrieve the tubes after it had cooled and after we had cleaned it out enough to get in there and safely remove the tubes. Then we had to get them down and bend them and weld them together. The intent was to make them look as much like a slot canyon as possible.”
He said the sculpture stands as a representation of hundreds of thousands of hours of work by all the employees who worked at NGS. “It took an army,” Jones, said, adding that he thought City Hall was a good location for the artwork. “I think it’s a good visual coming into Page.”
Diak said the dedication ceremony was something that should have happened a long time ago. He said SRP started conducting surveys for construction of the plant in the early 1970s and then finished Unit 1 in 1974, Unit 2 in 1975 and Unit 3 in 1976. The plant started producing energy in 1974. It was decommissioned on Nov. 18, 2019.
“We’re here to recognize SRP and some of its attributes and some of the gifts it gave to the City of Page,” he said. “SRP started contributing to the community before they actually opened the plant just by their presence here. They were some of the best partners that we had within the community.”
As part of that partnership, SRP encouraged plant managers to be heavily involved in the community. Starting in 1974, a number of plant managers and other employees served on the Page City Council, and several were elected mayor – Diak being the most recent.
“Those people were active in their community, and one of the reasons they were like that and did that was because SRP asked that of them. Our volunteer fire department was very well supported by SRP,” Diak said. “Along with that, they were always involved with our sports, and made sure that they were well funded throughout our community as well as other organizations.”
JoAnn Yazzie, president of the Navajo Nation’s LeChee Chapter, pointed out that NGS sits on LeChee land.
“NGS was really a blessing to us. I know they did bring things to our communities, and I think Page benefitted,” she said. “I am thankful I was able to get a scholarship through SRP when I was working on my undergraduate. I know a lot of kids have done so, which we’re very grateful for.”
Following the Boiler Tube Slot Canyon dedication at City Hall, another ceremony was held at Coconino Community College Page Center on the same day to dedicate the college’s NGS Memorial Wing, which includes the NGS Technology Center and a Page Attacks Trash display.
“It was important to me that we figure out a way as a college to thank NGS and SRP for all that they have done for Coconino Community College,” said Kay Leum, CCC’s executive director of extended learning.
She said SRP donated furniture and other materials to the college when the plant closed.
“They were very gracious and, as you look around our building now, we were able to trade out aged furniture that we had here in the building and replace it with some of the great things they had in the administration building,” she said, adding that the college’s Technology Center was established in 2002 with support from SRP.
“This part of our building was made possible by SRP and NGS and the other owners. They’ve made a tremendous contribution to our space here at the college,” Leum said.
Diana Sanchez from the Flagstaff-based CCC Foundation said that without SRP’s support, “the institution wouldn’t even be here in Page.”
“They’ve donated numerous furniture and materials to the campus,” she said. “They’ve given $40,000 in training equipment for first aid, CPR and EMT classes. They’ve given $16,000 to support CNA and EMT students in all factors for being a student, from books to testing to travel to Flagstaff.”
In 1998, SRP also contributed to an endowed scholarship at the CCC Foundation, which has allowed them to support a Page student in their education at CCC for the past 23 years.
Former SRP employee Paul Ostapuk said education and skill training were a big part of the success of NGS, so it was no surprise that the owners saw the value in CCC and provided money for Technology Center.
“Everyone that worked there, you walked away with a paycheck, but that lifelong learning and education was something that was way, way more valuable,” he said.
At last week’s ceremony, Leum also introduced CCC staff member Fran Thomas, who teaches first aid and CPR classes, as well as tour guide training programs. Leum said that on average, close to 400 people a year are trained by Thomas and her co-teacher in first aid and CPR at the college.
Thomas said NGS brought a sense of community to the Page area.
“It kind of gave this whole area a big dose of glue, kind of put us all in that one way of being and moving us all together to support each other to do all those things,” she said.
This sense of community, in turn, “put in motion a culture of service in this area … to help neighbors, to do things for our family, for our neighborhood, for our community.”
Thomas said NGS also instilled a culture of safety in its employees and in the surrounding community. Before joining CCC, Thomas taught American Heart Association programs, EMS and other trainings at SRP’s Pera Club in Page for more than 30 years.
“The programs were there, and they supported us in actually bringing those programs to Page,” she said, adding that Leum and CCC played an integral role in building the bridge between the college and NGS.
“We ended up with a ton of training equipment here not only for the community for lifesaving skills, for our working people, but for that mom and that family that needs to know some CPR and some lifesaving skills,” Thomas said.