With capital outlay bill signed, San Juan County and Navajo Nation projects get funding

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, left, meets with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Feb. 4 in Santa Fe.

FARMINGTON — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham approved $823.1 million in capital outlay funding to cover the cost of various infrastructure projects in the state.

Of the total amount, projects in San Juan County and on tribal land in the county will receive $16.77 million. She signed Senate Bill 212 on March 9.

Among the requests submitted by the county government was $3.25 million to purchase a new helicopter for the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Shane Ferrari explained that the agency has operated an aviation program for about 25 years but its two helicopters – one from 1971 and the other from 1972 – have undergone multiple repairs over the years, which raises safety concerns.

Helicopter services are vital to the Sheriff's Office, which also uses the units to help other agencies in the region.

"We're the only air asset within 160 miles," Ferrari said on March 11. "Getting a new helicopter is going to help us further the services that we provide to the entire Four Corners area. We're ecstatic about getting this new helicopter and being able to sustain our program into the future."

The Farmington Fire Department saw its request approved for $925,000 to purchase self-contained breathing apparatus, or SCBA, which is worn during fires and hazmat situations to protect firefighters from oxygen deficiency, dust, gases and vapors.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation that includes $925,000 to provide new protective gear for Farmington's firefighters. In this 2021 file photo, firefighters and police responded to a structure fire on East Animas Street on a Saturday afternoon after an intoxicated man was reported to be inside the burning building. No one was found inside.

The department sought funding because the current supply of SCBA is near end-of-life and needs to be replaced.

"SCBA is a vital piece of personal protective equipment that allows firefighters to enter hazardous environments and perform essential operations," Fire Chief Robert Sterrett said. "The decision to approve this funding shows support for our community's needs."

On the Navajo Nation, projects in chapters in the counties of Bernalillo, Cibola, McKinley, San Juan and Socorro will receive $14.81 million.

"During the state's legislative session, our nation's leaders met with state legislators and the governor to outline our priorities for capital outlay projects," tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. "We are very grateful that our voices were heard, and that the governor did not veto any of the funding for the Navajo Nation."

Navajo leaders advocated for the funding in visits to the Roundhouse during the legislative session, including a Feb. 4 visit by Nez to meet with Lujan Grisham, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and various state legislators.

The governor did veto some items in Senate Bill 212, including all that called for appropriations under $10,000, but none of the projects were in San Juan County or on the Navajo Nation.

Although the bill addressed infrastructure needs in the state, it included several projects that lacked proper planning or are not ready to proceed, Lujan Grisham wrote in her message to the state Senate.

"For these and other reasons, I have vetoed $4.6 million in severance tax bond projects," she wrote. "These vetoes total approximately 0.6% of the total amount of capital outlay provided for in Senate Bill 212."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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