Freeze residents impatient with planning process
Cindy Yurth, Tséyi'
Bureau, Navajo Times, AUGUST 14, 2008
TUBA CITY - The residents
of the former Bennett Freeze do not understand why it
is taking tribal planners so long to figure out what
In the words of Coconino
County supervisor and Tuba City resident Louise Yellowman,
"We need everything."
"The government keeps
asking us, 'What do you need?'" said Yellowman
at a final input meeting held Aug. 6 for residents of
the former Bennett Freeze.
"They know very well
what we need," she said. "We need homes, we
need roads, we need water No. 1. We need businesses,
we need clinics . . . 50 years with no development.
What do they think?"
In 1966 a freeze on development
was imposed by the then-Commissioner of Indian Affairs
Robert Bennett while the government decided how to settle
a decades-old dispute over 1.5 million acres claimed
by both the Navajos and the Hopis.
In October 2006, after
waiting for Uncle Sam to step in for 40 years, the Navajo
and Hopi tribal leadership got together and signed a
compact to end the freeze, which was accepted by federal
President Joe Shirley Jr. appointed
a task force to oversee the daunting task of bringing
development to an area that has pretty much stood still
for 40 years.
Over the past few months, the task force,
the Navajo-Hopi Land Commission and WHPacific, a Native-owned
planning and consulting firm, have held public meetings
in each of the nine chapters affected by the Freeze.
With input from these meetings and chapter
officials, WHPacific developed preliminary master plans
for each of the nine chapters: Bodaway/Gap, Cameron,
Coalmine Canyon, Coppermine, Kaibeto, Leupp, Tolani
Lake, Tonalea and Tó Nanees Dizí (Tuba
The plans were unveiled at last week's
The organizers hoped that the residents,
about 260 of whom packed the Tuba City Boys & Girls
Club, would carefully review the master plans and give
"What we were looking for was,
'This is OK, I don't like this, and you left this out,'"
explained Scott House, project manager for the tribe's
Design & Engineering Services office, which contracted
with WHPacific for the plans.
What they found instead was that the
thaw unleashed a flood of anger and frustration that
is still coming.
"I didn't need to hear that,"
House said in a telephone interview after the meeting.
"I've heard enough anger."
Unveiling an estimate of $730 million
for capital improvement projects the nine chapters had
requested - schools, clinics, police stations, senior
citizen centers, etc. - seemed to set people off, even
though the planners repeatedly explained that the figure
did not include housing or infrastructure.
"Seven hundred thirty million?"
scoffed one woman. "It's going to take trillions."
"I have 214 permittees, and I want
214 homes for those permittees, plus their children
and grandchildren," said Lucille Saganitso-Krause,
a Tó Nanees Dizí grazing official.
Indeed, in all but the Coalmine Canyon
Chapter, residents who attended the previous meetings
identified housing as either the first or second priority.
A housing study commissioned by the
task force found that, of the 1,350 homes in the former
Bennett Freeze, 87 percent ranged from "fair"
to "very poor" condition.
Other priorities identified by the chapters
include electricity, running water (only 39 percent
of Bennett Freeze homes are connected to a public water
source), roads, economic development, schools, health,
recreation and safety facilities.
In other words, said House, "pretty
much the same things the rest of the Navajo Nation needs."
While there's no doubt the former Bennett
Freeze is worse off than most of the Navajo Nation,
House said he could show folks areas in the Eastern
Agency that are comparable.
"One thing President Shirley has
to decide is, do we want to concentrate on the Bennett
Freeze, or do we try to develop the whole Navajo Nation?"
he asked rhetorically.
The main problem, however, is that large
influxes of federal funding are virtually nonexistent
"If you're depending on the U.S.
Congress for all the funds, you're not going to get
there from here," one task force member advised
The Bennett Freeze area may, in fact,
need trillions, House said. But "We're living in
the real world, and in the real world, a government
with a trillion dollar deficit is not going to give
us a trillion dollars."
That's why planning is so important,
"People at the chapter level need
to decide what they need in the next six years, the
next 10 years and the next 15 years," he said.
"We can't go to Washington and say 'We need everything,
and we need it now.' The more detailed a plan we have,
the greater our chance of success."
Tó Nanees Dizí Chapter
President Frank Bilagody said his chapter is already
going ahead with improvements, which drew encouraging
comments from the task force.
But Yellowman said the federal government
created the Freeze, and it's up to Washington to make
sure it's thawed."
"They violated our rights, and
now they have to pay," she said. "We want
Other residents voiced the thought that,
since the Freeze area is such a blank slate in terms
of development, it might be a good proving ground for
green building and alternative energy.
House isn't sure about that either.
"The problem with solar (power)
is that, in addition to the high upfront cost, you have
to know how to maintain your system and you have to
know how to ration your energy use," he said. "It's
a huge education issue, and right now I'm having enough
trouble getting people to understand how planning works."
How it works, at least in this case,
is that residents have until Aug. 20 to submit their
comments while the planners formulate a recovery plan
for the whole region, to be unveiled Sept. 15.
Comments should be sent to Mikaela Renz-Whitmore,
Planner, WHPacific Inc., Ste 400, Albuquerque, NM 87102
or faxed to 505-242-4845 c/o Mikaela Renz-Whitmore.
Comments received after Aug. 20 will
be appended to the plan but will not be addressed within
To see the preliminary master plans
for each chapter and download the task force presentation
made to the audience last week, visit http://fbfarp.org.