Navajo Utah Commission and county pursue law enforcement agreement

Members of the Navajo Utah Commission heard reports on upcoming American Rescue Plan Act funding, plans for increased law enforcement, and passed a resolution asking for quarterly meetings with the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President at their September meeting.

During the September 14 meeting, members of the commission heard a report from San Juan County Administrator Mack McDonald on several items of interest to the commission.

McDonald updated the commission on efforts to approve a law enforcement agreement between San Juan County and the Navajo Nation.

Earlier in September, the San Juan County Commission unanimously passed a resolution directing staff to enter into a law enforcement agreement with the Navajo Nation.

The resolution requests that San Juan County Sheriff’s Deputies be cross-deputized to allow them to patrol on the Navajo Nation portion of San Juan County and to respond to calls in the area.

Similar cross commission trainings have taken place with Arizona and New Mexico law enforcement agencies that have overlap with the Navajo Nation.

The 16-hour training covers a variety of topics, including Navajo Cultural Awareness, Navajo Nation Bill of Rights, Navajo Nation Traffic Vehicle Code, Extradition and Detainment, and other aspects related to justice on the Navajo Nation.

The details of who pays for the services will be worked out as part of negotiations before the county approves an agreement with the Navajo Nation.

At the meeting, San Juan County Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy noted that this has been a long-standing issue that needs to be addressed.

“Navajo Nation and the county is starting to work together on this law enforcement,” said Maryboy. “I think a thank you should be addressed to the Aneth Community. They met with Sheriff Torgerson, we met and our delegate was there to enforce what needs to be done.”

Although the agreement is not yet in place, the two agencies are working together. McDonald reports that Sheriff Torgerson is in regular contact with the Navajo Police Department and they are working to set up meetings to begin the negotiations to cross-deputize officers.

The Navajo Police Department and San Juan County Sheriff’s Office worked together earlier in September on a combined manhunt to contact a non-Indigenous man who had been seen throughout northern Arizona and southern Utah area for several months.

Reports about the man stealing food and water from area residents led law enforcement to attempt to contact the man.

On September 15, the man was located near the Halchita area. While attempting to elude law enforcement, the man sustained injuries when he fell from a cliff area. He was airlifted by Classic AirMed for medical treatment.

The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and the Utah Highway Patrol assisted the Kayenta District in locating the man and providing him with medical care. Future collaborations could become more common with an approved contract between the county and the nation.

At the meeting, McDonald also gave an update on waste services in the Navajo Nation portion of the county.

McDonald shared that the Aneth Chapter Solid Waste Proposal. The chapter is meeting with the county and Indian Health Services (IHS) to seek funds from IHS to provide waste management services. McDonald reports that with the chapter already having bins, they hope the service could be up and running soon.

Other portions of the reservation in San Juan County have garbage pick-up services from Kayenta. San Juan County maintains a transfer station location in Mexican Hat.

The main county landfill is located 10 miles north of Bluff and four miles south of White Mesa.

A two-acre transfer station in Bluff was shut down in 2018 when the property was sold to the Hole in the Rock Foundation. The sale was essentially a land swap, with the county receiving nearly four acres of nearby land from the foundation.

McDonald reports that during a recent analysis of the transfer station, the county discovered a private individual in Bluff has started a garbage removal business, with garbage services available for a monthly fee.

McDonald also reported on road improvements on the Navajo Nation. Currently, the only roads that San Juan County can maintain on the Navajo Nation are those on a school bus route. Recent flooding and washouts in the area kept the county road department busy maintaining those routes.

McDonald reports they are in communication with other entities that maintain roads in San Juan County, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Navajo Department of Transportation (NDOT). 

The county is continuing to seek negotiations with NDOT to increase maintenance of roads in southern San Juan.

Finally, McDonald reported on redistricting efforts in San Juan County. The county commission hired consultant Bill Cooper to assess the 2020 Census data for the county and, based on that data, draw new election district maps for the county commission and school board.

“The population has changed enough that we’re going to have to re-draw the mapping lines,” said McDonald. “He’s stated that District 2 is over population by six percent, and in District 3 that population dropped by four percent.”

Although there is a small allowable deviation in population counts per district, in the 2015 court case against San Juan County, Judge Robert Shelby said he wanted to see as close to a zero deviation as possible. McDonald says Cooper will present the maps in the near future to the county commission in a public meeting.

Also at the meeting, the Navajo Utah Commission heard from Dr. Pearl Yellowman, the Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Division of Community Development. 

Dr. Yellowman reported about the funds coming to the Navajo Nation and it’s 110 chapters through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Among the funds received, $1.8 billion is available for utility projects such as water, wastewater, and broadband projects.

Dr. Yellowman reported that training to apply for those funds will be given to chapter officials and administrators in the near future.

Sonlatsa Jim-Martin, of the Navajo Division of Community Development, reported that her department is working to help fill vacancies in chapter administration in Utah. Chapters have seen an uptick in staff vacancies as many employees have retired.

The Navajo Utah Commission also passed a resolution asking for the Nez-Lizer administration to re-start quarterly Utah Chapter project coordination meetings.

The Office of the President and Vice President began these meetings in 2019 but they were placed on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The resolution passed by the commission asks that the quarterly meetings resume to give chapter officials and administrators an opportunity to work with the executive branch to address existing challenges at the chapter level in Utah.

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