Council overrides Shirley's veto of wind project

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

 WINDOW ROCK, Nov. 24, 2010

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The Navajo Nation Council approved an override of President Joe Shirley Jr.'s veto of legislation that would have started lease negotiations for a wind energy project on Gray Mountain, near Cameron, Ariz.

The override passed, 64-8, during a special session of the Council on Nov. 23. It initially failed but was recalled.

In order to pass the override, the Council needed to muster 59 votes in its favor.

Bobby Robbins (Coalmine Canyon/Toh Nanees Dizi), one of the bill's sponsors, told the Council that the project has been four years in the making.

"We have been in front of a lot of barriers in getting this initiative off the ground for our communities," Robbins said in Navajo.

Jack Colorado (Bodaway-Gap/Cameron/Coppermine), another bill sponsor, said the wind energy project would bring much needed economic development to the area, along with revenue for the tribe and scholarships for students.

"Although the action of the president indicates he has disrespect for the delegates who voted on these initiatives," Colorado said.

Shirley vetoed the bill Nov. 8 after the Council approved it Oct. 21 during the fall session.

In his memo to Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan (Iyanbito/Pinedale), Shirley stated that Sempra Generation and International Piping Products Inc. did not obtain the required review and approval by the Resources Committee and the terms were not negotiated by the executive branch, as required by Navajo law.

"This circumvention creates exclusivity for a non-Navajo entity to gain and maintain complete control over a Navajo resource which encompasses 45,000 acres of Navajo trust land, up to 75 years," Shirley wrote.

He expressed concern that the Navajo Nation is not the controlling owner of the project. Under the terms of the agreement, the tribe has the option of purchasing 20 percent of ownership.

"This means that a non-Navajo entity will be able to control and decide all assignments and subleases without Navajo approval," Shirley wrote. "Further, the term sheet waives all applicable Navajo taxes and Sempra and IPP are under no obligation to comply with the Navajo Nation Procurement and Employment laws."

During the Council's discussion of the resolution Oct. 21, delegates Omer Begay (Cornfields/Greasewood Springs/Klagetoh/Wide Ruins) and LoRenzo Bates (Upper Fruitland) raised concerns about the tribe's limited ownership of the project.

"The Navajo Nation is going to be receiving a very minimum rent payment and that doesn't do justice to the Navajo Nation and its people," Begay said.

By comparison, Shirley wrote, the Big Boquillas Wind Project involves the Navajo Nation, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Edison Mission Energy and Foresight Energy.

NTUA will own 51 percent of the Big Bo wind project through a for-profit affiliate, he wrote.

Shirley stated that he also is troubled by reports that Sempra and IPP representatives offered money to certain elected officials in order to have them approve the project.

Shirley stated that Delegate Norman John II (Bahastl'ah) said on the Council floor during the fall session that representatives offered him "campaign funds" if he would vote to give the project a green light.

"I cannot stand by to allow such questionable activities and possible violation of the Navajo Ethics and Government Law to dictate this important policy decision," Shirley wrote.

Sponsors of the Sempra bill have proffered override legislation, but on Nov. 10 the Resources Committee voted to give it a "do not pass" recommendation.

The Ethics and Rules Committee issued a "do pass" on the override legislation Nov. 19.

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