Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
On Tuesday, July 30th Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed the Navajo Generating Station lease agreement into law at a signing ceremony in Window Rock, the Navajo Nation capital. The lease extension now goes to NGS owners and then to the Department of Interior for final approval. The signing of this lease agreement has been met with both concern and controversy from the Navajo community.
On July 18th, the Navajo Nation Council approved the highly controversial legislation 0177-13: the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) lease extension and it was then forwarded on to the President’s office to be signed. The Navajo Nation Council decision was controversial even amongst the Council Delegates themselves. A number of amendments to this agreement were narrowly approved by just one vote.
According to Shelly’s office, the lease states the Navajo Nation would receive approximately $42 million a year in lease payments beginning 2019 through 2044. That annual payment is substantially larger than $608,400 outlined in the original lease approved in 1969.
President Shelly feels that an important aspect of the NGS lease agreement is jobs. “We are protecting existing jobs on the Navajo Nation,” said President Shelly. “We are building a job base well into the future. This is part of our drive for economic self sufficiency.”
A major concern for groups like Black Mesa Water Coalition was the unreasonable time period allowed for public commenting and the lack of data and information disseminated to the public. Coalition member Wahleah Johns states “Time and information is critical to making well-informed comments regarding the future of the Navajo Nation. As tribal members we were prohibited from seeing the actual agreement”.
Throughout the Navajo community there are many who are concerned about the increasing and direct impacts the NGS and coal mining have had over the decades. The economic, social and ecological effects has resulted in the relocation of Black Mesa families and the severe damaging of pristine aquifers.
“Although many grassroots people have continually reminded our leaders to be cognizant of our future generations so they will be ensured to have the natural healthy resources they will need, such as clean water and clean air, yet our leaders ignore us. They have made a statement that revenues and jobs are more important than Navajo quality of life.” states Anna Frazier a Navajo citizen and Dilkon community member.
Community members throughout the reservation are not only concerned about the environmental and health impacts, but feel that large corporations are taking their wealth and leaving the Navajo people with very little in return. Navajo citizen Ed Becenti expresses a growing sentiment, “I think President Shelly has made a bad decision for the Navajo Nation. He has let outside corporations seek their profit at the expense of the Navajo people.”
Donna House from Oak Springs, AZ states “We cannot wait another decade or quarter of century to claim our water rights from the Colorado River – and continue to live with toxic air, toxic aquifers, toxic soil from coal. Our homeland is our true wealth.”