Navajo Utah Commission talks Aneth sanitation, Lake Powell future

Members of the Navajo Utah Commission discussed solid waste services in Aneth, the future of Lake Powell, and the Bears Ears National Monument designation at their latest meeting.

The elected Chapter officials and Navajo Nation Council representatives who make up the Navajo Utah Commission met virtually on Tuesday, October 12.

The commission first heard from representatives with Indian Health Service (IHS) on efforts to bring solid waste and sanitation facilities to the Aneth area.

Kelly Mortensen works as the assistant director of the division of sanitation facilities construction under the office of environmental health and engineering for the Navajo area IHS.

Mortensen said his office works on projects for water, sewer, and solid waste projects. 

He added that the Aneth chapter request for sanitation services was “way ahead of the game as far as most chapters [they] work with.”

Despite good groundwork from the Aneth Chapter and the Navajo Utah Commission, Mortensen did add that projects are done based on priority rankings.

“To be honest, I don’t know about amounts of funding,” said Mortensen. “Solid waste projects rank low relative to water and sewer projects.

“Water projects take priority and precedence. With that said, you have to address solid waste needs.”

Mortensen reported he would offer help to the chapter as they look to address solid waste disposal needs in the Aneth area.

At the same meeting, the commission heard a report from Crystal Cree from the Diné College Office of the President.

Cree reported that in addition to the six Diné College campus locations in Arizona and New Mexico, they had recently established a micro-site for the college in Aneth.

Cree says the college spent about $500,000 bringing the old Headstart building up to code, as well as investing in utilities, furniture, and computers for the center.

The new building, which is owned by the Aneth Chapter, has a zoom classroom, as well as computers and laptops available for use. Although hours are limited as they get underway, the facilities are available for all students to use, age Kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as Diné College students.

Cree says they look to expand in the area and create a more permanent site in Aneth as well.

At the meeting, the commission also passed a resolution encouraging the Navajo Revitalization Fund to set aside $260,000 for architectural and engineering planning for a new Aneth Chapter building.

Aneth Chapter official Brenda Brown reports that the chapter has withdrawn 24 acres of land and is in the midst of a master plan.

In addition to a new chapter house, there are several other considerations for future use of the area. Brown mentioned the area could include a senior center, education center, women’s shelter, a new court office, and police substation and detention center, as well as a recreation center.

The commission also discussed issues in the western part of San Juan County, including the future of Lake Powell.

The board heard from Hank Stevens, a Navajo Mountain resident and member of the Navajo Nation’s To’ Niltoli’ Task Force.

Stevens explained the task force came about because a 1970’s inter-governmental agreement regarding Lake Powell was set to expire in September 2020.

Leading up to and since its one-year extension, Navajo Nation leaders have been seeking to change the agreement in regard to how Lake Powell is administered.

The original quadrilateral agreement was signed by the National Parks Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Navajo Nation. 

The agreements relate to the co-management of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, as it makes up part of the Navajo Nation border.

Members of the To’ Niltoli’ Task Force represent Navajo communities near Lake Powell and are working at altering how the area is co-managed. They say the make-up of the agreement has not led to promised economic impacts from tourism. 

Stevens reports one issue regards the elevation of the lake. Currently, any land below 3,720 feet elevation belongs to the National Park Service and Bureau of Reclamation.

Another area of concern is a one-mile buffer zone for the park service, which Stevens says contains 226,583 acres of land.

Part of the task force consideration is proposing a centerline boundary, meaning the boundaries would use the center of the San Juan and Colorado rivers as the dividing line.

At the meeting, the commission also heard from reports regarding the restoration of the Bears Ears National Monument.

Leadership with nonprofit Utah Diné Bikéyah spoke with the commission, including Executive Director Woody Lee and board chairman Davis Filfred.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez also joined the call and thanked and congratulated the commission and others involved in the work to restore Bears Ears National Monument. 

Nez reported on his visit to the White House where President Joseph Biden signed the act restoring the monument.

Nez shared at the ceremony he took off one of his long-time turquoise necklaces and gifted it to the President to match turquoise given to First Lady Jill Biden on her visit to the Navajo Nation earlier in the year.

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