Shelly highlights drought in state of the nation

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, July 18, 2013

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D espite rain clouds gathering outside, the continuing drought conditions on the reservation was the first item Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly mentioned in the state of the Nation address Monday.

Speaking to the Navajo Nation Council during the summer session, Shelly said the state of emergency that he declared for the drought remains in effect and work continues to develop plans of action for chapters to provide relief to residents and livestock.

"We are in some challenging times right now as we look to the Holy People to continue to bless us with moisture," he said.

Among the response plan is appropriating $3 million in supplemental funding to the Department of Water Resources for drought relief, which is emergency legislation added to the summer session agenda.

He encouraged the two branches to work with the Navajo Transitional Energy Company to achieve the purchase of Navajo Mine, which supplies coal to the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico.

Once that purchase is completed, he said, the tribe could exercise its partnerships with Sandia and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories to navigate the future of coal while complying with federal policies and guidelines.

"Since we have taken office, my administration has worked to further develop our energy resources while protecting our environment and natural resources," Shelly said.

These efforts include protecting existing Navajo jobs at the Navajo Generating Station, the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station, he said.

Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to enforce regional haze rules for these power plants, the tribe continues to ask the agency to consider the jobs and economic impacts such regulations can have on the Navajo Nation, he said.

He highlighted that work continues to have chapters and programs apply for reimbursement payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for emergencies dating back as far as 2005.

So far the tribe as received approximately $5.5 million in FEMA reimbursement checks, he said.


BNSF

The partnership between the tribe and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad is continuing to develop an import and export area in Thoreau, N.M.

Shelly reported that two large railroad loops would be constructed to have the loading capacity of 100 freight cars and transport Navajo products and natural resources on the BNSF railroad.

On July 12, the president vetoed the $155 million bond legislation that would have provided funding for economic development projects on the reservation.

The Council passed the bill during the June 28 special session.




"The legislation as it currently reads is not sufficient for any financial institution to offer, sell or issue bonds to the nation," Shelly said

He also directed Division of Economic Development Director Albert Damon Jr. to work with the Office of the Controller, the tribe's financial advisor and the bond counsel to make sure the required language is amended to the legislation.

In Shelly's July 12 veto memorandum to Speaker Johnny Naize, the president requested the Council consider lowering the amount to $120 million.

As with previous reports, the president offered a brief update on the process to revise the tribe's energy policy.

Part of that process was holding town hall meetings in order to develop an energy policy that reflects the needs of the people and of the government, he said.

"I am happy to announce that much of the work needed to move the energy policy forward has been done and will be given to you through your respective committees," Shelly said.

He announced that two weeks ago the tribe authorized a study to be completed on the renewable energy potential for Paragon Ranch, located in northwest New Mexico.

The study would focus on the potential to produce 4,000 megawatts of renewable power and would be completed in one year.


NCI

The tribe is continuing to work on a solution with the City of Gallup to keep the Na'Nizhoozhi Center Inc. operational.

The city took over management of the facility Monday evening and appropriated at least $500,000 to keep the detox portion of the facility open.

The two governmental entities are now working on a plan to eventually have the facility operated by the tribe's Department of Behavioral Health.

Shelly also took time to remember the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died June 30 while battling the 2,000-acre Yarnell Hill fire, near Prescott, Ariz.

Shelly paused in his delivery to allow Vice President Rex Lee Jim time to address the Council.

In Jim's comments, he mentioned work is underway to establish a rehabilitation center in Chinle for veterans as well as continuing to work on addressing the housing needs for veterans on the Navajo Nation.

He also mentioned the recent visit to Window Rock, St. Michaels, Sawmill, Ariz., and Gallup by U.S. Secretary Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

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

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