State subcommittees recommend funding for projects with direct impact to San Juan County
Millions of dollars in state funding may be coming to San Juan County to address domestic violence, transportation planning, and water issues.
Around $5 million meant to address issues in San Juan County moved closer to final approval in the past week during the Utah State Legislature. An additional $50 million in requests for San Juan County projects remains up in the air.
Before the end of the Utah State Legislative Session on March 4, the legislature will pass their annual fiscal year budget in a bill. That bill is being prepared now by state staff and members of an Executive Appropriations Committee.
The committee is weighing recommendations by subcommittees – such as public education or social services – to present their prioritization of funding.
Subcommittee reports were finalized on February 11, giving Utahns a look at what may be passed in the annual budget.
Six projects with a direct impact on San Juan County were recommended for funding outright by subcommittees, while eight projects are ranked based on available funds.
Two recommended projects include $4 million for transportation in the southwest portion of the county by the Infrastructure Appropriation subcommittee.
State Senator David Hinkins, (R) sits on the subcommittee. Hinkins represents San Juan in the Utah Senate.
One recommended project includes $2 million for an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) on a road between remote Navajo Mountain and Oljato. The total is half of the request.
The subcommittee also recommended $2 million for an engineering study for a bridge over Lake Powell. The bridge would connect Halls Crossing in San Juan County to Bullfrog in Kane County and would replace the ferry operated by the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).
The request was made by Representative Phil Lyman, (R) of Blanding. Lyman represents San Juan County in the Utah House.
The $4 million in appropriations would represent the start of projects that could ultimately result in $385 million spent on transportation infrastructure in southwest San Juan County.
A 2020 estimate from Jones & DeMille Engineering put the Navajo Mountain to Oljato project cost at $115 million.
This includes $50 million for phase one, a dirt road connecting Navajo Mountain and Oljato. Phase two, at $30 million, would connect that road to Highway 276, including a bridge over the San Juan River. Phase three, at $35 million, would pave the 70 miles of road.
Navajo Mountain is about 30 miles west of Monument Valley as the crow flies, but driving between the two communities takes nearly two hours, with almost the entirety of the drive in Arizona. Additionally, a connection to Highway 276 would cut hours off the drive time between Navajo Mountain and areas to the north.
The project has support from local leaders, including the Navajo Utah Commission and the San Juan County Commission.
The project also has support from Lyman and Hinkins, as well as Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Utah Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson.
Lyman reported to the state subcommittee that the Halls Crossing to Bullfrog bridge would cost an estimated $270 million, with hopes that the Biden Infrastructure bill would fund the construction. The bridge is twice the size of the bridge at Hite.
Lyman said the Lake Powell Bridge and Navajo Mountain Transportation project tie into each other.
“Putting the bridge across Halls Crossing would connect the extreme southeast part of the state to the central part of the state,” said Lyman. “I think it would have major effects to transportation moving forward.”
When the ferry is not operating, it is nearly three hours between Bullfrog and Halls Crossing.
Lyman said while 90 percent of Lake Powell is in Utah, 90 percent of the traffic and tourism is in Arizona due to the availability of services.
“Bullfrog and Halls Crossing could be a world-class resort if we could connect the dots,” said Lyman.
The proposed Halls Crossing-Bullfrog bridge saw support in the subcommittee from Lyman and Hinkins, as well as Commissioner Bruce Adams.
In the Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, funding is recommended to plan the Navajo Utah Water Rights Settlement, as well as a watershed project. Lyman is on the subcommittee.
A total of $400,000 is set aside to update the capital facilities improvement plan associated with the Utah Navajo Water Settlement. The request was made by Senator Hinkins.
The settlement between Utah, the United States, and the Navajo Nation will see $220 million from the federal government and $8 million from Utah for projects in the Navajo Nation portion of Utah for drinking water access in isolated and underserved communities.
The Utah Division of Water Rights claims the project could begin as soon as 2023. The $400,000 will be used for community planning to maximize efficiency in building infrastructure to deliver water to Utah Navajo.
The subcommittee also recommended the use of $1.6 million in federal funds for projects in Utah Lake and the San Juan Watershed
Another project of interest to San Juan County is a $65,000 recommendation to produce a Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Task Force Study.
A legislative task force has held a handful of meetings over two years, including a public hearing in Bluff.
The task force will report to the legislature on proposed institutional policies and practices to reduce gender violence and increase the safety of indigenous women and girls.
The Social Services appropriations subcommittee also recommended $4.24 million to fund Domestic Violence shelters across Utah.
Among the shelters is the Gentle Ironhawk Shelter in Blanding. The shelter was re-opened in 2021 when the Navajo Nation, which owns the shelter, reached an operating agreement with Utah Navajo Health Systems (UNHS).
While the six previously mentioned projects received funding recommendations from subcommittees, they still need to be included in the final budget bill.
Eight other projects directly impacting San Juan County were ranked by appropriation subcommittees based on leftover funds from the state and the Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
While the remaining projects could be funded, it is unlikely based on funding requests in front of them.
The Infrastructure Appropriation subcommittee ranked 79 projects requesting $1.3 billion in funds for one-time appropriations.
At 26 on the list is a $5 million request from Utah State University for a new education building in Monument Valley. The request for the building is ranked behind $626 million in other requests.
Other requests for San Juan County projects rank even further behind, including $15 million for network infrastructure upgrades to broadband services in the San Juan School District, $18 million to renovate the San Juan County jail and courthouse, and $2 million for Navajo Mountain transportation corridor.
The Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee ranked 67 projects with a $730,000 Indian Creek Stabilization initiative ranking 26 on the list and $65 million in requests prioritized ahead of the project.
The Indian Creek Stabilization initiative, requested by Lyman, would rehabilitate climbing access trails to popular cliff climbing locations in Indian Creek Canyon.
Other projects ranked further behind include $100,000 for economic planning for the North Lake Powell Accord, a coalition of Kane, Wayne, Garfield, and San Juan counties, and a $50,000 request to transport artifacts to the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding.
The request would transport a large repository of artifacts currently located in a BLM building in Salt Lake City to Edge of the Cedars Museum, where they could be rotated into museum displays.
Lyman spoke favorably of the project in subcommittee hearings.
In the Social Services Appropriation Subcommittee, an $11.5 million request for the Four Corners Workforce and Skills Development Project ranked 30 of 42 one-time requests.
The project would seek matching funds from the Navajo Nation to create a workforce and skills development center in Montezuma Creek, as well as equipment and expansion of the career development training programs at Whitehorse High School into other Navajo communities in the county. The project request came from Hinkins.
Final approval of the budget is anticipated before the end of the 45-day Utah State Legislative session on March 2.