Council extends NGS lease

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, July 25, 2013

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D espite Navajo lawmakers extending the lease agreement for the Navajo Generating Station the resolution has yet to be sent to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly for his review.

The Navajo Nation Council discussed the lease for six hours July 18 then voted 16-6 to extend the lease for an additional 25 years, from December 2019 to December 2044, along with increasing the annual payments made to the tribe.

Speaker Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Many Farms/Nazlini) sponsored the bill and said its passage would continue the employment of Navajos at the power plant and continue the tribe's annual revenue.

Prior to its passage, the Council approved an amendment to change the deadline when delegates can approve the lease and the deadline for Shelly's signature.

"We haven't received it," said Erny Zah, Shelly's communications director, on Tuesday.

If the Council approved the agreement by July 31 and Shelly signs it by that date then the tribe would receive a $1 million bonus.

Another amendment expanded the list of chapters that would benefit from a chapter fund established and administered by the NGS owners.

That list includes Bodaway-Gap, Cameron, Chilchinbeto, Coalmine Mesa, Coppermine, Dennehotso, K'ai'bii'tó, Kayenta, LeChee, Navajo Mountain, Oljato, Shonto, Ts'ah bii Kin, Tonalea and Tó Nanees Dizí.

Jared Touchin, spokesman for the speaker's office, said legislative branch staff are drafting the resolution and adding the amendments.

"It's been a somewhat slow process because staff want to ensure that the amendments language is worded and placed correctly," Touchin said then added that delegate Mel Begay (Bahastl'ah/Coyote Canyon/Mexican Springs/Naschitti/Tohatchi), who served as speaker pro tem during the debate, is expected to certify the resolution when he returns from travel Friday.

Then it will be sent to the president's office.

Salt River Project owns and operates the NGS and applauded the Council's action in an email to the Times.

"The owners of the Navajo Generating Station are pleased and thankful that the Navajo Council has voted to approve legislation that would extend the lease for this important Arizona resource," said Mike Hummel, SRP chief power system executive. "We are currently reviewing the amendments that were included in the final vote, but the initial indication is the amendments are acceptable."

Jeff Lane, SRP media relations, said Tuesday the utility company has not received the finalized legislation but are doing their "best" to review the information they obtained from the live online broadcast of the session, tribal press releases, and individuals who were there.

"Until we do, we cannot indicate if this new legislation and the changes to the lease amendment are acceptable," Lane said.

Don Yellowman, of Tuba City, watched part of the debate in the Council chamber but left before the final vote.

"I didn't know once we left what was going to happen, what to expect," he said. "I was cheering on the Navajo Nation … We've been too generous and giving. It's time, the Navajo Nation needs to take a firm position to say this is rightfully ours and this is how we would like to demand that this is fairly our share."

He expressed disappointment when the Council approved then later deleted a proposed amendment by delegate Russell Begaye (Shiprock) to ensure that the NGS non-participating members would not oppose the tribe's pursuit of water claims to the Upper Colorado River.

The state of Arizona apportioned 50,000 acre-feet of water annually to the NGS to power its boilers and cooling system.

For some delegates, Begaye's amendment was "a deal killer," Yellowman said.

"We feel that everything is connected to the water," he said. "We're listening in hopes that those delegates will protect and take a strong stance for the interest of the people, the nation on water rights."

A similar amendment was attached to the lease extension the Council approved in April, which was rejected by the NGS owners.

Contact Noel Lyn Smith at 928-871-1139 or nsmith@navajotimes.com.



How delegates voted on the NGS

The official vote tally showed 16 delegates voting in favor, 6 against and 2 not voting. Those listed as not voting include those who were absent.

Following is a breakdown of the vote by name and chapters represented.

Voting yes:

  • George Apachito (Alamo/Ramah/Tóhajiilee)
  • LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/T'iistoh Sikaad/Tsé Daa K'aan/Upper Fruitland)
  • Elmer Begay (Dilkon/Greasewood Springs/Indian Wells/Teesto/White Cone)
  • Mel Begay (Bahastl'ah/Coyote Canyon/Mexican Springs/Naschitti/Tohatchi)
  • Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto/Dennehotso/Kayenta)
  • Joshua Lavar Butler (Tó Nanees Dizí)
  • Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Klagetoh/Lupton/Nahata Dziil/Wide Ruins)
  • Charles Damon II (Bááháálí/Chichiltah/Manuelito/Rock Springs/Tsayatoh/Tsé Lichíí)
  • Jonathan Nez (Navajo Mountain/Oljato/Shonto/Ts'ah bii Kin)
  • Walter Phelps (Cameron/Coalmine Mesa/Leupp/Tolani Lake/Tsídii To'ii)
  • Alton Joe Shepherd (Cornfields/Ganado/Jeddito/Kin Dah Lichíí/Steamboat)
  • Danny Simpson (Becenti/Crownpoint/Huerfano/Lake Valley/Nageezi/Nahodishgish/ Tsé'íí'áhí/Whiterock)
  • Roscoe Smith (Crystal/Fort Defiance/Red Lake/Sawmill)
  • David Tom (Beclabito/Cove/Gadii'ahi-Tokoi/Red Valley/Sheepsprings/Toadlena-Two Grey Hills/ Tsé Alnaozt'i'í)
  • Duane Tsinigine (Bodaway-Gap/Coppermine/K'ai'bii'tó/LeChee/Red Lake-Tonalea)
  • Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau)

Voting no:

  • Nelson BeGaye (Lukachukai/Rock Point/Round Rock/Tsaile-Wheatfields/Tsé Ch'ízhí)
  • Russell Begaye (Shiprock)
  • Jonathan Hale (Oak Springs/St. Michaels)
  • Leonard Pete (Chinle)
  • Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/Littlewater/Ojo Encino/Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake)
  • Dwight Witherspoon (Forest Lake/Hardrock/Kíts'íílí/Piñon/Whippoorwill)

Not voting:

  • Kenneth Maryboy (Aneth/Mexican Water/Red Mesa/Teec Nos Pos/Tólikan)
  • Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Many Farms/Nazlini)