Navajo Utah Commission discusses road work, post office, solar farm

Members of the Navajo Utah Commission discussed roads, the Red Mesa solar farm and a new post office in Montezuma Creek at their April 13 meeting.

The commission passed a resolution in support of the Diné: Atiin Bahane: Navajo Road Emergence – Navajo Nation Whitepaper of 2021.

The document attempts to address issues of road maintenance on the Navajo Nation. Brandy Tomhave, a consultant who helped with the paper, outlined some of the key issues to the commission.

“The number one problem is secretarial oversight, the way it is currently implemented both at United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA),” said Tomhave. “They are in conflict with each other, and Navajo Division of Transportation (NDOT) and others get caught in the conflict between those two agencies.”

Tomhave explained that NDOT often has to fill out different sets of paperwork and environmental studies for both USDOT and the BIA, doubling the logistical workload for the Navajo division. Tomhave added that allowing the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency to regulate in the same way a state agency does would allow projects to move forward without resources being absorbed by red tape.

“On a threshold level we need to empower the Navajo Nation to do what the Navajo Nation has a right to do, which is to implement federal clearances for Navajo land and communities,” said Tomhave.

Tomhave mentioned the impacts of roads on private enterprise, public health and education.

Additionally, the paper outlines that the Navajo Nation is receiving the same funding amount it received 25 years ago, despite growing needs.

“It is important for Congress to understand there are pragmatic reasons to do the right thing,” said Tomhave, “because the transportation system is holding every facet of Navajo progress hostage.”

The commission voted unanimously to approve the resolution in support of the Navajo Nation Whitepaper of 2021.

The commission also received reports from the Utah Department of Transportation and San Juan County regarding challenges related to road maintenance in the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation.

At the meeting, the commission also received a report from Arash Moalemi, who works as General Counsel for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA).

Moalemi outlined some of the infrastructure projects paid by Federal CARES funds that NTUA completed before the end of 2020.

Projects included connecting 77 Utah Navajo homes to the NTUA electric system. In Utah, NTUA also replaced seven wastewater pumps and motors, installed and commissioned five cistern systems, and installed 27 off solar units.

Moalemi also reports that since NTUA took over providing utilities for Utah Navajo from Rocky Mountain Power in 2016, the authority has connected 194 Utah homes to the grid and is working to connect more.

Moalemi also gave the commission a report on the Red Mesa Tapaha Solar Project on the southern end of the county.

NTUA’s first solar project was in Kayenta, AZ. NTUA’s second and third projects are coming online together in Red Mesa and Cameron, AZ.

The NTUA Kayenta solar project created hundreds of construction jobs during the creation of the project and three full-time jobs afterwards. Using the Kayenta project as a reference, NTUA is able to project benefits for the Red Mesa Project.

The Red Mesa Tapaha Solar project will be on 550 acres within the Red Mesa chapter and will create 70 megawatts annually. NTUA anticipates the project will create 300 new construction jobs with $6.2 million in payroll over the course of a one-year construction period starting in late 2021 and finishing mid 2022.

After the construction is completed, three full time jobs will be created at the solar project. The project will also create a continuous internship and scholarship administered by NTUA.

Of the 70 megawatts produced, 66 will be sold to the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS). Four megawatts will be consumed by NTUA.

Leasing the land will cost NTUA $228,250 per year paid to the Navajo Nation. Additionally, NTUA has negotiated compensation to those with grazing rights on the land where the Red Mesa Tapaha Solar Project will be located.

The commission also passed a resolution in support of the restoration and expansion of the Bears Ears National Monument.

Finally, the commission also passed a resolution asking the Utah Navajo Revitalization Fund (NRF) Board to allocate $90,000 for the Montezuma Creek Post Office Project.

The Montezuma Creek Post Office services 1,000 mailboxes. The 1,100 square foot post office was built in the 1960s and has experienced some difficulties with age. 

Executive Director Clarence Rockwell explained that issues with the roof, heating and cooling, and safety due to the proximity to the highway all contribute to the need for a new building.

The $90,000 from the NRF will be used for preliminary planning for a new facility. Other funding sources will need to cover future construction costs for a new post office building.

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