Tribe to end garbage services with county

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — After amending a joint powers agreement for services provided at three solid waste transfer stations last year, the Navajo Nation has notified the San Juan County Commission it is ending the agreement.

The Upper Fruitland Transfer Station is one of three stations located on the Navajo Nation in San Juan County.

The decision to terminate services for transfer stations in Upper Fruitland, Shiprock and Sand Springs was announced in a Jan. 31 letter to the commission from Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.

San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said the county received the notification on Monday, and it came as a surprise.

"It's too early to tell what we will do," Carpenter said today adding the county is seeking information from tribal officials, including how the tribe will proceed.

The joint powers agreement for operating and maintaining the three transfer stations has been in place since 1994.

Last May, the Naa'bik'íyáti' Committee, whose membership consists of the 24 delegates, approved amending the agreement to have the tribe pay the full cost of operational expenses.

In Begaye's letter, he wrote the tribe "has experienced an exhaustion of funds and is unable to identify funds to carry out the intent" of the agreement as of May.

The president did not respond to questions and a request for comment submitted to his office today.

A cost share summary for the three transfer stations, which was provided by the county, shows the tribe paid $173,156 in fiscal year 2016, and the county collected $160,411 in fees from the stations. The operating cost for the stations was $521,961 in 2016.

A sign informs visitors to the Upper Fruitland Transfer Station about what materials are allowed to be left.

During a County Commission meeting today in Aztec, Carpenter said the county does not have much information about what the tribe plans to do, and the county currently subsidizes the solid waste management for the communities served by the transfer stations.

"That is very troubling news," Commission Chairman Jack Fortner said about the tribe's decision.

He said the county will not pay the full cost of providing services to residents who use the stations.

"We cannot and we will not take over those payments," Fortner said.

As the delegate representing six chapters that use the stations, Speaker LoRenzo Bates said when the bill was approved last May, the cost for operating the stations became a recurring expense, and the tribal budget should have reflected that cost.

"So the question is, did someone drop the ball or is the money being used elsewhere?" Bates said.

He added that he and Delegates Tom Chee, Amber Kanazbah Crotty were unaware of the president's decision before the letter was sent to the County Commission. Each one represents chapters that would be impacted by the lack of services.

The transfer station in Upper Fruitland is the closest one to the boundaries of the San Juan Chapter.

"We were taken by surprise," San Juan Chapter President Rick Nez said about the termination notice.

He said an immediate concern is the potential for an increase in illegal dumping.

"We already have a problem with it. Can you imagine it doubling, tripling?" he said.

Nez said there will be a meeting to discuss the transfer stations and the president's decision at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Nenahnezad Chapter house.

Reporter Hannah Grover contributed to this report.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.