NIIP Splits Navajos, Domenici

by Jim Snyder/
Farmington Daily-Times 
10 October 2004 

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation Council’s Resources Committee appears headed for a showdown with U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., over the cost of the $1.2 billion proposed Navajo water rights settlement agreement on the San Juan Basin.

The committee, headed by Chairman Delegate George Arthur, wants to keep $372.8 million in federal funding for the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project in the settlement.

Domenici and U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., however, want NIIP taken out of the settlement to help lower its overall cost.

The settlement could stall if both sides dig in their heels and refuse to budge, Council Delegate LoRenzo Bates said Oct. 6 in an interview at the Upper Fruitland Chapter House.

“My concern is if the Council has NIIP funding in there and they go forward with it — and Domenici and Bingaman are against it — (the settlement) may not go anywhere,” he said. That would be a concern because the Navajo Nation does not have a fallback position, he added.

The settlement, still in negotiations with New Mexico’s Office of State Engineer, seeks 606,060 acre-feet of diverted water — 56 percent of the basin’s water supply in New Mexico — annually for the Navajo Nation. Of that amount, 508,000 acre-feet of diverted water per year could be used for NIIP to complete its 110,000-acre farm south of Farmington. That water could also be used for industrial and municipal purposes under terms of the settlement.

The settlement seeks $1.2 billion in federal appropriations to pay for a Navajo-Gallup Pipeline, to complete the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and other Navajo water infrastructure projects.

The first draft was made public by the New Mexico Office of State Engineer Dec. 5. It was followed by a second draft July 9. A third version is expected to be released in a few weeks, Arthur said.

A difference of opinion (Subhead please)

Arthur reiterated his position Oct. 6 that NIIP would not be withdrawn from the proposed settlement to help lower its overall cost — directly challenging Domenici’s statement the settlement was too expensive for congressional passage and NIIP should be taken out.

“Mr. (Navajo water attorney Stanley) Pollack has been given a directive to maintain the inclusion of NIIP in the settlement,” Arthur said in an interview at the Upper Fruitland Chapter House. “The numbers aren’t going to change,” he added.

Domenici spokesman Matt Letourneau restated Domenici’s position Friday, however, that NIIP should be taken out of the settlement.

“Our position is we believe the NIIP project doesn’t need to be in the (water rights agreement) project,” Letourneau said in a phone interview from Washington, adding Bingaman agreed with Domenici. “Our position has been the same and remains the same.”

Domenici wrote Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. in an Aug. 18 letter the settlement was too expensive.

“I am writing to you to let you know that I cannot support the current estimates of the federal costs of this settlement. I am hearing total estimates between $900 million and $1.25 billion and all of it federal money. I would be less than candid with you if I did not express my concerns early. I see no way that Congress would be able to fund these huge amounts of money.”

Domenici asks Navajos for help (Subhead please)

Domenici then asked the Navajo Nation to help pay part of the bill.

“I am, therefore, writing to ask for your leadership in finding ways to have the Navajo Nation contribute a substantial portion of the estimated settlement costs,” he said.

Bates, a former general manager of the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry which utilizes NIIP water, said at the time that was unrealistic.

The settlement must be passed by Arthur’s committee — which oversees all land and water issues on the reservation — before it can go to the 88-member Navajo Council for a vote.

The committee is expected to review a third draft — with NIIP funding intact — during an Oct. 14 meeting. Arthur said he would keep the meeting open and not go into executive session.

No date has been set for the full Council to review it and vote on it.

Arthur, a strong proponent of getting NIIP finished, added last week, “It’s interesting he (Domenici) is concerned about cost after all this time. If the federal government was serious about the cost (of NIIP) they could have completed it 40 years ago for the same dollars as the Chama Diversion.”

He added he would not remove NIIP from the settlement without a guarantee from Congress it would still be funded and completed in the near future.

“If it’s taken out of the settlement my concern is how will Navajos be assured NIIP will be completed?” Arthur asked.

Who is in charge? (Subhead please)

The Navajo Nation is sending conflicting messages to its congressional delegation about who is in charge at the Navajo Nation, Bates said — because the Navajo legislative branch is seeking full federal funding to complete NIIP while the executive branch is saying private funding could be an option.

Shirley met with Domenici and Bingaman in late September in Washington and had a “positive” discussion, according to a Navajo Nation Washington Office news release. No details of the meetings were released.

Bates said, however, that Shirley told Domenici in a letter some private funding could be used to complete NIIP.

“From the (Navajo) president’s side of the fence there’s going to be a drastic difference of thought,” Arthur said. “The Council has stated to keep NIIP in the settlement discussions. The president has faded from that position and has taken an absolute contrary position.”

Shirley would not publicly confirm or deny his position on NIIP within the settlement Friday.

“President Shirley is working with all involved to come up with a mutual position to benefit the Navajo Nation in the settlement,” Shirley spokeswoman Deana Jackson said, adding the settlement, once approved by the Council, would require his signature before being sent to Congress.

Diné Bitzill Navajo grassroots co-leader Norman Patrick Brown said last month he was also concerned about the different Navajo positions.

“Who’s in charge?” he asked.

The Navajo Water Commission, the Resources Committee, the president’s office, the speaker’s office and the Navajo Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee all proclaim to be in charge of the settlement, he said, adding, “ Everybody wants to be at the front.”

Letourneau added Friday there has been a lot of discussion on both sides and that he did not know who Arthur or his committee was.

Jim Snyder: 


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.