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Council considers NTUA veto override

WINDOW ROCK

President Jonathan Nez vetoed Navajo Tribal Utility Authority’s resolution to increase its debt ceiling from $500 million to $1.5 billion, but there is legislation pending for an override.

In his memo to the speaker on why he vetoed the resolution, Nez stated the debt ceiling increase should have had proper justification, sufficient background information, and reference to authority to approve the request.

The memo also explained how the Navajo Transitional Energy Company’s recent mine purchases influenced his decision to veto this increase, stating the current atmosphere created by tribal enterprises is bringing unwanted national attention to the Nation and is making him extra careful with requests from any enterprise.

“I don’t know how you can fathom that (debt ceiling increase),” Nez said to the Times in November. “You already have a debt ceiling at $500 million, then you ask for a $1 billion increase. Are we putting our Navajo people’s money in jeopardy?”

The last time NTUA had received a debt ceiling increase was in 2010 when it went from $200 million to the current $500 million. The override bill states this $1 billion increase is needed to improve/strengthen existing utility infrastructure, expand utility business, continue developing major projects, and bring benefits to Navajo people.

“The proposed override legislation is not asking the Nation for financial assistance,” wrote NTUA general manager Walter Haase in a memo to the Navajo Nation Council. “(NTUA) is not asking for a loan from the Nation, not asking the Nation to co-sign on any loan, not asking the Nation to put in place a security bond.

“Further, NTUA is not asking the Nation to waive its sovereign immunity,” he said. “NTUA is simply requesting to increase our ability to borrow money from financial lending institutions.”

Delegate Nathaniel Brown is sponsoring the override bill. In the past when the debt ceiling increase bill had gone before committees, he explained it would diversify the Navajo energy portfolio.

“As a Nation we have grown past the typical electric utility as well as water,” said Brown said during an October meeting. “There are a lot of projects. This is thinking outside the box … thinking of other ways to bring in revenue to the Navajo Nation.”

In that same October meeting, Heather Claw, an NTUA attorney, said within the next 10 years, NTUA is planning a 70-megawatt solar project in Red Mesa, expanding on infrastructure such as the water and wastewater plants in Kayenta, Shiprock, Tuba City and Navajo, New Mexico, as well as water plants in Aneth, Kayenta, Montezuma Creek, Utah, and Lower Greasewood, Arizona.

Also, NTUA plans to expand its electrical service territories in Tuba City and eastern Navajo chapters; reach more communities with wireless and broadband services; and replace and upgrade infrastructure.

NTUA is also looking to take over the Southern Trails Pipeline in northern Navajo, which goes from Bloomfield, New Mexico, to Shiprock, Red Mesa, Arizona, then on to Tuba City.

“These are some of the projects that we are looking to build to better our Navajo Nation,” said Claw. “Basically what we are asking is the ability to continue to grow.”

Within the next 10 years NTUA is projected to create 2,500 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs. Currently it has 746 employees and 97 percent are reported to be Navajo.

“Under my leadership, NTUA will only request a debt ceiling increase when it is in the best interest of the Nation and its people,” stated Haase in a memo to Council. “Even if NTUA’s debt ceiling is increased, financial institutions will only lend NTUA money when we meet their strict financial analysis and review.”

This override legislation will go before the Naa’bik’iyati’ Committee and then to Navajo Nation Council.

About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council and Office of the President and Vice President. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com. Follow her on Twitter at @abecenti

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