WINDOW ROCK — The Navajo Nation Council took another step to complete the process for acquiring Navajo Mine on Friday by allowing disputes to be settled in state courts rather than tribal courts.
In a special session at the council chamber in Window Rock, delegates approved a bill waiving sovereign immunity on court disputes regarding the coal mine that the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, or NTEC, is buying.
Zurich American Insurance Company is requiring those measures, including settling any arbitration in New Mexico and Arizona courts, before it and the Arch Insurance Company issue $500 million in bonds and insurances for reclamation and performance to NTEC.
The council voted 17 in favor and five opposed.
Delegates tabled the measure when it came before them in a special session Monday in order to have a work session then another special session Friday.
During Monday's special session, delegate Russell Begaye, who represents Shiprock, motioned to have the bill pass by super majority vote, which was passed.
At Friday's special session, delegate Charles Damon motioned to rescind the super majority requirement.
Damon made his motion after a number of delegates and Speaker Johnny Naize met for about an hour in executive session with attorneys from the Navajo Nation Department of Justice and the Office of Legislative Counsel, staff from the Office of the Speaker, members of NTEC and the due diligence team, and representative from Marsh, an international company specializing in insurance broking and risk management.
On Monday, Navajo Nation Attorney General Harrison Tsosie issued a memorandum to Naize and the council stating that a super majority was not necessary for the legislation because the previous council enacted the Arbitration Act with a super majority which grandfathers in the waiver of sovereign immunity.
Delegate Lorenzo Curley questioned the timing of Damon's motion and said it appeared to be instigated by the tribe's Department of Justice.
"What I am seeing now disturbs me. We are engaging in politicking in order to increase the chances of this legislation passing," Curley said.
With Tsosie sitting nearby, Curley said Tsosie is supposed to be "impartial" to matters such as this but he was clearly showing a preference.
"I see this as an act of circumventing what the law already requires," Curley said.
Damon withdrew the motion after Naize said delegates were ready to vote on the bill rather than continue discussion.
"On record I would like to say that three-quarters vote (requirement) was inserted because the opposition wanted this legislation to fail, that's my thought," Damon said.
Throughout the special session the public seating area was filled with employees from Navajo Mine and the Four Corners Power Plant as well as concerned community members.
About 70 mine employees and another 30 power plant employees arrived by bus.
Signs stating opposition to the legislation and mine acquisition were posted and taped to flag poles outside the council chamber.
Prior to the special session, delegates spent about 3 hours in a work session on the legislation where it was explained once again that the reclamation and performance bonds are required in order to own and operate Navajo Mine.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.