Navajo Nation Budget and Finance Committee approves $2.8 million bond for emergency water needs

Below freezing temperatures leave many on Navajo Reservation without water, Navajo Tribal Authority to make repairs

The Navajo Nation will move forward with a $2.8 million bond to pay for repairs to broken water lines and replace water storage containers damaged by below freezing temperatures last month.

The Budget and Finance Committee (BFC) approved the legislation on Feb. 19. The legislation, sponsored by Council Delegate Jonathan Hale (Oak Springs, St. Michaels), was approved with three votes supporting and one opposing.

The Bond Financing Act gives the BFC the authority to approve bond finances as much as $15 million.

On Jan. 25, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly declared a state of emergency for the Navajo Nation to provide water to communities affected by the broken water lines. The $2.8 million bond approved by the BFC will provide money to the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority which will make the repairs.

Navajo Nation Controller Mark Grant explained that the emergency repairs are considered "essential government projects."

Grant also said that negotiations between KeyBank and the Department of Justice are complete, and the loan could be finalized the first week of March.

BFC member and Council Delegate Nelson BeGaye (Lukachukai, Rock Point, Round Rock, Tsaile/Wheatfields, Tsé Ch'izhi), asked whether other ways to pay for the repairs were explored, such as the Navajo Nation's Unreserved, Undesignated Fund Balance.

BeGaye urged the BFC and the controller to plan ahead for future emergency situations.

Council Delegate Jonathan Nez (Shonto, Navajo Mountain, Oljato, Ts'ah Bii Kin), asked why the loan amount was only $2.8 million when the Navajo Nation has other emergencies to address. He asked specifically about the need to address employees removed from Administration Building Two after inspectors found fungi inside the building.

"B and F has authority to borrow up to $15 million," said Nez. "We should include funds to address other emergencies with one loan instead of asking for loans repeatedly."

Several BFC members also asked about the possibility of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursing a portion of the $2.8 million.

Heather Clah, legal counsel for the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, explained that President Barack Obama must also sign off on a declaration of emergency in order for FEMA to reimburse 75 percent of the loan to the Navajo Nation.

Navajo Nation Emergency Management Director Rose Whitehair, reminded the BFC that on Feb. 5, Gov. Jan Brewer had also declared a state of emergency on behalf of the Navajo Nation.

Obama recently approved an amendment to the Stafford Act that allows tribes to seek FEMA funds directly from the president without having to go through the state.

"We're going to be the first tribe to send it to Obama without having to go through a state due to amendments to the Stafford Act. This sets precedence for other tribes," said Whitehair.

She said the Nation's emergency needs at this time far exceed FEMA's requirements for reimbursement, making it very likely that FEMA will eventually reimburse 75 percent of the loan amount.

Also included in the legislation was a directive to the controller to begin financing new construction of Administration Buildings One, Two and Three along with other condemned buildings in other agencies.

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