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Council overrides veto on NTUA’s debt ceiling

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Navajo Tribal Utility Authority will have its debt ceiling increased from $500 million to $1.5 billion after the Navajo Nation Council voted to override President Jonathan Nez’s veto during last Thursday’s special session.

During a Dec. 12 Naabik’iyati’ meeting on the override, Nez informed committee members he hoped they would consider a steady series of increases rather than a $1 billion increase all at once.

“I’m not opposed to a gradual increase,” said Nez to the committee. “We’re going to be here for the next three years. Let us see some results. Let’s see some of these projects come to fruition and then they can come back and ask for another increase. That’s how it works out there in the real world.”

Some of the projects NTUA is planning to go after with the help of the increase are: a 70-megawatt solar project in Red Mesa, Arizona, and 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.

NTUA is also looking to take over Southern Trails Pipeline in northern Navajo, which goes from Bloomfield across to Shiprock, Red Mesa then on to Tuba City; expand electrical service territories in Tuba City and eastern Navajo chapters; reach more communities with wireless and broadband services; and replace and upgrade infrastructure.

“I think a lot of these projects that are being presented will have to be a part to the discussion,” said Nez to the committee on Dec. 12. “The Navajo citizens do own this enterprise.”
The last time NTUA was able to increase its debt ceiling was in 2010 from $200 million to the current $500 million.

“The proposed override legislation is not asking the Nation for financial assistance,” wrote NTUA general Walter Haase in a memo to the Council. “NTUA is not asking the Nation to waive its sovereign immunity. NTUA is simply requesting to increase our ability to borrow money from financial lending.”

After Council approved the override, Haase said this was really a victory for the Navajo people because it gives NTUA the opportunity to get things done on their behalf.

“I’m proud of all the delegates that stepped forward and saw that it looked past the politics and looked past ‘what it’s in it for my community?’” said Haase. “They understood what was in it for all of Navajo.”

With the $1 billion increase in additional debt, NTUA must report to the Navajo people how the overall $1.5 billion it plans to borrow will be used and how it will benefit communities in terms of providing electricity, water, and natural gas throughout the Navajo Nation, said Nez after the Council override vote.

When Nez vetoed the increase he cited the recent behavior of Navajo Transitional Energy Company as a major factor. He said in his veto memo to the speaker that the resolution lacked information on the need for the increase.

He also stated the “atmosphere” NTEC had created by its surprise purchase of three off-reservation coal mines had brought unwanted national attention to the Nation and is a reason to be extra careful with requests from enterprises.

“It’s important that they also provide a timeline and disclose where they will seek loans and funds from,” said Nez. “The Council allowed for this large increase in the debt ceiling so it’s important that they hold NTUA accountable for those funds — the people’s money.”

Nez said he will request a quarterly report on NTUA’s debt developments, repayment plans, and contingency plans to ensure the Navajo people’s utility company doesn’t spend unchecked or make unwise and hasty financial decisions.



About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council, Business, Fort Defiance Agency, New Mexico State politics and Art/fashion. 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.

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