NGS bill tabled, Naize to form negotiating team

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 25, 2013

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A fter spending hours locked in debate, the Navajo Nation Council decided to table legislation to extend the lease for Navajo Generating Station until April 29 and directed Speaker Johnny Naize to immediately form a negotiating team composed of delegates. This negotiating team would discuss amendments made April 17 to the legislation with NGS owners or representatives.

Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/Littlewater/Ojo Encino/Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake), who made the tabling motion, said it would allow delegates the opportunity to discuss and deliver their concerns about the lease to NGS owners.

During a Naa'bik'iyáti' Committee meeting in February, some delegates voiced concern that they were excluded from participating in the negotiation team appointed by President Ben Shelly.

"The president has had his chance," Tsosie said during the spring session. "This is in the hands of the Council now."

Nazie, the bill's sponsor, said NGS owners were probably not acceptable of the amendments made by the Council but it would also allow for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice time to review the amendments.

Salt River Project spokesman Scott Harleson said the utility company, which operates NGS, was disappointed the Council tabled the legislation.

The proposed lease extension was the result of more than two years of negotiation between NGS owners and the tribe, he said, those negotiations addressed the issues raised during the Council's discussion were fairly agreed to.

"We will discuss the developments of Wednesday's development with the other owners to determine how to proceed," Harleson said.

On Monday, the Naa'bik'iyáti' Committee's Energy Task Force Subcommittee met with SRP officials in Flagstaff to discuss the proposed amendments. Also in attendance were legislative branch counsel and staff and representatives from the president's office and the tribe's Justice Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Tax Commission, and Division of Natural Resources.

The bill would extend the power plant's lease from 2019 to 2044 and increase the annual payment from $608,400 to $43 million. The tribe would also receive a total amount of $150 million from 2013 to 2019.

The lease extension would be between the tribe and SRP, Arizona Public Service Co., Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Nevada Energy, and Tucson Electric Power and requires consent by the Council, Shelly and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

The initial lease was approved in 1969 for 50 years and is set to expire Dec. 22, 2019.

Proponents cite the need to continue employment opportunities for Navajos at NGS as well as Kayenta Mine, which supplies coal to the power plant.

Opponents oppose the renewal because of the environmental impacts caused by the 2,250-megawatt coal-fired power plant.

Naize, who represents Blue Gap-Tachee, Cottonwood-Tselani, Low Mountain, Many Farms and Nazlini, told the Council the relationship between NGS and Kayenta Mine goes hand in hand and "the two has to survive."

"This is a decision that needs to be made by the Navajo Nation Council to benefit our Navajo people, not only today but for the future," Naize said in Navajo.

Sam Woods, who was a member of Shelly's negotiation team, said throughout the negotiation team members kept in mind the tribe's position to receive increase tax and lease revenues, continue jobs and job skills development, provide benefits to impacted communities, funding for tribal scholarships, adhere to tribal laws, and recognize the tribe's water.

The tribe would also have a guaranteed option to buy 7.5 percent ownership of NGS, if one of the owners decides to leave, and the transmission lines that go with that ownership.

"I don't think any of our taskforce members count the 1969 lease as a good deal but a deal that needs to be inclusive and be reflected for the next 31 years and years on," Woods said.

In a statement Wednesday to the Times, Shelly said, "The decision regarding the NGS lease extension is in the hands of the Navajo Council. They have the ultimate authority to approve this lease. We remain hopeful the lease will pass."

In an April 17 letter to the Council from Shelly, he wrote that his negotiation team developed "a good solid" agreement and further negotiations would be "detrimental" to the tribe and to NGS employees.

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