President delivers State of the Nation address
By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
WINDOW ROCK, October 18, 2012
(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)
I n his state of the nation address to the Navajo Nation Council on Monday, President Ben Shelly highlighted some of his administration's accomplishments over the past quarter from infrastructure development to uranium cleanup to the 2013 Fiscal Year budget.
Shelly's 16-minute speech began with the tribe's $43 million agreement with the U.S. Department of the Interior to build portions of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project pipeline. This agreement, he said, will assist in the completion of the lower reaches of the Cutter Lateral Project and when the entire project is completed, about $1 billion will have been spent to complete 280 miles of water pipelines to 43 chapters, Gallup and portions of the Jicarilla Apache tribe.
"This project will bring more than 600 jobs to our reservation while it is being built and will supply enough water for a quarter of a million people when finished," Shelly said.
The $43 million will help with the design and construction of 43 miles of water pipeline, a pumping station and four water storage tanks for Navajo people living near N.M. State Hwy. 550, Shelly said.
Shelly also spoke about another agreement he signed in July with Hydro Resources Inc., whose subsidiary company Uranium Resources Inc. is planning in situ recovery process uranium mining in Church Rock and Crownpoint, N.M.
Called a Temporary Access Agreement, it allows the tribe to negotiate with HRI, rather than litigate, and according to Shelly the agreement is historical because negotiation doesn't threaten Navajo sovereignty. Also under the agreement, HRI agreed to clean up pre-existing mine waste on the nearby Section 17 property and has submitted to Navajo jurisdiction for the clean up at Section 17.
The agreement also allows the Navajo Environmental Protection Agency to oversee the cleanup efforts as set forth in the Navajo Nation Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 2008.
Along with the HRI agreement, Shelly mentioned the $7.15 million cleanup of three abandoned mine sites in Cove, Church Rock and Casamero Lake the U.S. EPA announced in September. Cleanup at these three sites is expected to be complete next month.
To help with the cleanup, Shelly said job training would be available through the Navajo Nation Superfund Job Training Initiative.
"As we look ahead, the U.S. EPA is predicting that another $44 million could be put toward cleaning the Northeast Church Rock Mine," he said. "With training available now, future mine clean ups could employ hundreds of Navajos in the future.
Shelly's address also covered topics such as coal revenues, the appointment of Sharon Singer as the Navajo Head Start Superintendent and the Red Dog Gravel project, which provided 40,000 tons of gravel to 10 Navajo communities in the Black Mesa area where gravel is found.
Other highlights of Shelly's report include a pilot project for the Department of Personnel Management to hire qualified Navajo professionals and his intention to create a taskforce to find solutions to Navajos living on Hopi Partitioned Lands and building homes for relocated Navajo families on Turquoise Ranch near Winslow, Ariz., which was recently acquired into trust status.
"These issues are complicated and I'm going to look towards creating a taskforce to look at what the executive branch and other stakeholders can do for planning and developing the Navajo-Hopi Partitions Lands," Shelly said.
One topic that didn't go unnoticed by the Council was 2013 Fiscal Year budget, which Shelly signed into law on Sept. 28. While he did sign the budget into law, he also laid-off about 30 employees in the executive branch and line item vetoed two portions of the budget passed by the Council.
Shelly told the Council that he signed a directive addressed to all division directors to help laid-off workers.
"The employees who were laid off will get preference for rehire and divisions are also to review vacant positions to move laid off workers to positions of which they qualify," he said.
The specifics of the line-item veto include a 2 percent adjustment made to the Navajo Nation Permanent Trust Fund and a $1.39 million supplemental to the Navajo Area Agency on Aging program from the Undesignated Unreserved Fund Balance.
In addition to the budget report, Shelly also informed the Council about tribe's record of reverting back $63 million in federal and $23 million in state funds from FY 2007 to FY 2012.
"The high reversion numbers direct the Navajo Nation to reevaluate the grant application, compliance, and oversight process," he said, adding, "…I have directed the executive divisions, departments and programs to begin including grant expenditure as part of their quarterly reports."
Council delegate Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto/Dennehotso/Kayenta) questioned why the president hadn't implemented and streamlined the SAS (signature authorization surname) review process, as promised in his inaugural state of the nation address in January 2011.
Benally said the SAS process remains a problem, adding she didn't understand the logic of why the president line item vetoed the NAAA's operating budget.
While his division directors reverted back $83 million in federal and state funding, Benally said, "You denied services to our people. You said you were saving money. They (division directors) were busing sending money back? How does that pan out? It doesn't pan out to our grandmas."
Council delegate Mel Begay (Bahastl'ah/Coyote Canyon/Mexican Springs/Naschitti/Tohatchi) noted how Shelly's report only mentioned the "elderly" once throughout his address.
"We would like to hear a response from you on why NAAA was line-item vetoed," Begay said.
"The chapters are concerned because of the number of hours senior center staff work and are asking the Council for support," said Council delegate David Tom (Beclabito/Cove/Gadii'ahi-Tokoi/ Red Valley/Sheepsprings/Toadlena-Two Grey Hills/Tse Alnaozt'i'i), adding that senior centers provide an opportunity to preserve Navajo cultural values and teachings. "These are the roles chapters and senior centers have in our communities."
When given the time to respond, Shelly told Benally and the rest of the Council he line item vetoed NAAA because employees at most senior centers aren't working while they should be during office hours.
"The reason why I vetoed it was because of the hours. They work 66 hours. They want it back to 80 hours," Shelly said. "They need to provide more services to the elderly…"
The Council accepted Shelly's report on a vote 9-8.