To the editor:
Navajo Nation is in a sea of mud and there are numerous emergencies with stranded families, stuck vehicles and medical emergencies. Many entities from the Navajo Nation emergency offices, Navajo County road crews, chapter crews, Indian Health Service crews and school district crews are working to alleviate this, but very little progress is being made.
Navajo County Supervisor Percy Deal conducted a tour of the stricken areas with county officials. According to Deal, hundreds of families are stranded and "these families have no way to get out for food and medical supplies," he said.
To address the problem as an emergency, Navajo County had declared an emergency and Navajo County Public Works Director Dusty Parson is sending several road crews to assist with the efforts. While most of these roads are on the BIA system, according to Parson, the county crew will improve these roads on behalf of the residents who are county voters. This is called cutting through the red tapes, and Mr. Parson is to be commended for taking this on behalf of the residents, not withstanding the jurisdiction issues involved.
In talking with Walter Begay Jr., who is a government liaison for Peabody Coal Company on Black Mesa, he said there is a large demand for gravel, and now Peabody needs to process additional gravel. In order to do this, the Navajo Nation must waive its requirement for a mineral permit.
I called the Navajo Nation President's Office and talked with Jim Store, field liaison for Western Navajo Agency. Mr. Store said he needs a letter of request to the president to waive the permit requirement. A letter was drafted and faxed to the president that same day, which was Feb. 6. Since the president has already declared a State of Emergency for the Navajo Nation, I assumed this will be done with a phone call from the president to waive the permit requirements.
However, on a phone call to Mr. Begay at Peabody on Feb. 21, the Navajo County was trucking the gravel that was stock piled three years ago in a similar emergency situation and that the gravel is about depleted. I asked about the request for the waiver and Mr. Begay said that he heard at the Forest Lake Chapter that the Resources Committee will be addressing that at the next meeting on March 13, and that Kayenta Council Delegate Willie Begay will be offering legislation at that time. I also learned that once the permit requirement is waived, Peabody will start processing new gravel, which will take at least three weeks. That will put it around April 3 when the new gravel will be available. By that time the roads will be dried and the need will no longer exist. This is the nature of the bureaucracy and it has been said before, the government moves at a snail's pace. Road improvement should be year round activities, if we are to have most of the dirt roads on the Navajo Nation made all weather road.
Here in Kayenta, we have our share of the mud problems. The bus routes on the Wetherill Heights have become impassable. The township is working with the local school district and the chapter as well as Peabody Coal and Navajo county to fix the bus routes. The township is requesting culverts to alleviate the drainage problem on these bus routes. The local school district has the necessary equipment to haul gravel and sand to the site and a grader to repair the roadbeds. The dirt is available; however, the gravel is contingent upon the Navajo Nation's action on the permit.
The cemetery road will also need gravel, culverts and sand. There are also several offices that need gravel in their parking areas to control the muddy conditions. Also several residents within the township need gravel and sand for egress and ingress to their houses.
This experience has taught us that preparation for any and all emergency conditions should be made a part of our long range planning, including plans to make our roads and streets all weather to prevent hardship on our people.
Kayenta Township has recently hired a full-time civil engineer who will help the township in planning and weatherizing all roads and streets within the township. A joint effort with other entities within the community is necessary to achieve these objectives
In these efforts we extend our appreciation to the Navajo County officials, staff and crews as well as the local chapter officials and their staff and most importantly our local tribal and county officials for making resources available to our communities, all to make life better for our residents throughout the Navajo Nation. We are always thankful for Peabody Coal Company for making its resources available to make roads passable to all residence and residents.
It takes planning, teamwork and team spirit to make these kinds of cooperative efforts possible.