Measure failed to earn two-thirds majority approval

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FARMINGTON — A bill to fund the cleanup of a business site in Shiprock did not muster the required two-thirds majority vote to pass during the summer session for the Navajo Nation Council.

Delegates voted 15-4 on Tuesday in favor of legislation that requested $400,000 in supplemental funding from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance for the Bond and Bond Business Site Redevelopment Project. The measure would have required at least 16 yes votes to achieve the two-thirds majority, since five members of the council did not vote on the issue.

The amount would have been used for property cleanup and demolition of existing structures on 2.59 acres located west of the north U.S. Highway 491 and U.S. Highway 64 intersection.

Henry Silentman, senior economic development specialist for the tribe's Regional Business Development Office in Shiprock, said the 10,000-square-foot building is "very dilapidated," and there is asbestos and lead contamination on the roof.

An outside entity expressed interest in the site four years ago, but the cost to renovate the building was estimated at $1 million, Silentman added.

"They couldn't justify renovating that building for $1 million so our program decided it was best to demolish the building and clean up the business site," he said.

Delegate Dwight Witherspoon, the bill's sponsor, said the location was included in the 2016-2021 economic development plan for the tribe.

Delegate Tom Chee, who represents the Shiprock Chapter, said many older business site leases have existing utilities that can be tapped into, but money is needed to demolish the structures.

"Some of these older business sites are also in prime business site lease areas," Chee said.

Delegate Leonard Tsosie referred to a letter written by the tribe's former Division of Economic Development director, Crystal J. Deschinny, that states the property needs asbestos abatement, cleanup and redevelopment.

"This is not for economic development. This is to clean up somebody's trash," Tsosie said.

Delegate Otto Tso said the bill is a form of economic development.

"We're going to demolish the site, prepare the site, get it ready for another building to go up — meaning that's a form of project readiness of a site," Tso said.

Delegate Jonathan Perry asked if there has been interest expressed by businesses in leasing the site and if there is potential for growth.

"Looking at the overall agenda, we have $18.7 million in UUFB requests in this session," Perry said, adding delegates must be careful about approving allocations.

Tuesday was the second time the council had discussed the bill, which was tabled during a special session on Feb. 16.

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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