Nez approves $1B spending bill for critical infrastructure projects

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signed into law a bill to expend $1 billion in remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds to develop on the tribal land public safety, broadband internet services, public health, hardship assistance, water, wastewater, electricity, housing and bathroom additions.

"This has been talked about for many, many years — the need for infrastructure on our Navajo Nation," Nez said in remarks before signing the bill on July 15.

The president was joined by Speaker Seth Damon, Vice President Myron Lizer, seven council delegates and several chapter government officials at the event in front of the Crownpoint Chapter house.

"You know, the recovery funds that have come to the Navajo Nation is a shot in the arm to the Navajo Nation," he said. "Once we sign this legislation today, it will create jobs. … It's all about nation building."

Besides the critical infrastructure projects outlined in the bill, it authorizes dividing $211.25 million equally between the 24 delegates for eligible projects within the chapters they represent.

Delegate Mark Freeland talks about how COVID-19 affected the eight chapters he represents on the Navajo Nation Council on July 15 at a signing ceremony in Crownpoint.

In his comments, Damon described the spending bill as the largest ever signed by a tribal president outside the tribe's fiscal year budget.

The $1 billion is what was left from the $2 billion the tribe received last year to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to invest in infrastructure.

Damon explained that the bill finally reached the president's desk after more than 120 days of back-and-forth discussions, meetings and work sessions.

Speaker Seth Damon talks about the work done to form plans for spending remaining ARPA funds on July 15 at a signing ceremony in Crownpoint.

"This thing took patience," he said.

The council voted 20-2 in favor of the bill on June 30. Nez signed it without using the line-item veto to eliminate any allocations.

Crownpoint is the home chapter of the bill's sponsor, Mark Freeland. He represents Crownpoint along with seven other chapters in the Eastern Agency.

"Our eight regional chapters got hit hard. Our eight regional chapters have real needs significantly for water, electricity and bathrooms. That’s the reason why I wanted to sponsor this legislation," Freeland said.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signs into law a bill to spend remaining ARPA funds on July 15 at a signing ceremony in Crownpoint.

He added the money will pay for developments that will change the lives of those who reside in remote areas, use generators for electrical energy or haul water.

"We are going to change lives and enhance lives forever, beginning today," Freeland said.

Prior to serving on the council, Freeland was an executive staff assistant in the president's office when Nez was vice president.

Crownpoint Chapter President Rita Capitan reflected on how it took months of planning and hard work by various leaders to decide how to use the funds.

"When that time came to vote, I was listening, and I had my fingers crossed. … Now we're moving, so we can get to work," Capitan said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e