President Shelly signs loan agreement to pay for winter freeze emergency

Key Bank will loan Nation $2.8 million, officials expect FEMA to reimburse 75 percent of loan

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signs a loan agreement for $2.8 million to pay for the emergency response effort to fix freezing pipes on the reservation. Submitted photo

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signs a loan agreement for $2.8 million to pay for the emergency response effort to fix freezing pipes on the reservation. Submitted photo

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed a loan agreement March 7 for $2.8 million to pay for Operation Winter Freeze, an effort that restored running water to 18,000 residents on the Navajo Nation.

Key Bank agreed to the loan adhering to Navajo Nation law and courts.

"I am thankful that we will have the funding for our emergency operation where many people endured conditions without running water because of frozen water pipes. We had many people affected by the freeze, so it was important that we ensured the safe welfare of our people," Shelly said.

The Navajo Nation expects to partially pay back the loan with reimbursement money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

President Barack Obama declared the frozen waterlines a disaster March 5 allowing FEMA to assist with costs related to the emergency.

The Navajo Nation expects to share 25 percent of the cost of the emergency while FEMA can reimburse 75 percent of costs related to the emergency.

Navajo Tribal Utility Authority officials said the emergency cost about $1.8 million. About 25 crews worked to restore water. In addition, Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management officials said it cost $1 million to operate the emergency command center.

FEMA officials will visit the Navajo Nation this week to further assess the costs of the emergency.

According to FEMA, the Navajo Nation is eligible for two types of financial Assistance - money to pay for costs directly resulting from the emergency like labor and supplies to restore water service to residents and financial assistance with infrastructure upgrades including placing water lines deeper in the ground to make them less susceptible to freezing.

"I want to thank everyone for their hard work to restore services to our people. We are a strong people and have the ability to manage through crisis, but we also must keep in mind that we have Navajo people who depend on running water for their health. Their health is important to the Navajo Nation," Shelly said.

During the months of December and January, as many as 18,000 residents on the Navajo reservation lived without running water because of frozen water pipes. Shelly signed an emergency declaration in January because the freeze affected communities through the entire 27,000 square mile Navajo Nation.

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