WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. —Legislation approving a loan and grant agreement between the Navajo Nation and the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise was passed Dec. 5 allowing construction of the Síhasin Fund Twin Arrows Travel Center Development Project, near the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort.
The Budget and Finance Committee (BFC) supported the legislation and approved the loan. BFC chair and legislation sponsor Council Delegate Seth Damon (Bááháálí, Chichiltah, Manuelito, Tsé Lichíí’, Rock Springs, Tsayatoh), said he was pleased with the outcome of the loan agreement and described it as an important opportunity for economic development on the Navajo Nation.
“I know this took awhile to sort out and get everything clarified, but we are pleased to present this legislation and get the ball rolling on economic development. We worked in collaboration with the Navajo Nation Department of Justice (NNDOJ) and Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise (NNGE) attorneys, and we are satisfied with the outcome,” he said.
In July 2016, the Navajo Nation Council approved a resolution adopting the Síhasin Fund Twin Arrows Travel Center Expenditure Plan, which was subsequently signed by President Russell Begaye, however, issues were raised regarding the interpretation of the Síhasin Fund policy by the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice.
BFC member Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie (Baca/Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon, Whitehorse Lake) expressed his support for the legislation, and said because the expenditure plan was not executed when Begaye signed it, the Navajo Nation lost out on tax revenue because of the delay.
Tsosie added that the process to fund economic development projects from the Síhasin Fund needs to be amended and should only need the President’s review and signature since he has his own legal counsel that can provide assistance.
The expenditure plan would provide direct grant funding to the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise in the amount of $6 million, as well as a $4 million loan with a 15-year amortization and 1.5-percent interest rate, which would aid in construction of the travel center.
NNGE executive director of compliance Michelle Dotson said to qualify the project for the Síhasin Fund allocation, the development of an educational component was required. The enterprise will allow Navajo college students the opportunity to learn aspects about the planning, design and construction of the travel center and could count towards college credits. She added that the construction for the travel center would begin in March 2018 and could be completed by early 2019.
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