Kirkpatrick introduces technical amendments to Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act

Updated version of legislation reflects input from local stakeholders

WASHINGTON, D.C. – November 6, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., today introduced technical amendments to the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act that reflect close consultation with local stakeholders. An updated version of legislation she introduced in 2014, Kirkpatrick’s bill aims to resolve several issues, including housing, infrastructure and economic development opportunities in the former Bennett Freeze area.

Kirkpatrick and her staff have worked closely with stakeholders during the re-drafting of this legislation, meeting nearly 30 times in the process. The new version addresses a major concern she heard about in the 2014 version by clarifying that this legislation is not intended to open the door for development of the Grand Canyon Escalade Project. This concern was addressed in Section 4 with the addition of the “Grand Canyon Exception,” which states that this legislation “shall not apply to projects above and below the rim of the natural formation commonly referred to as the Grand Canyon.”

“I am honored to represent the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe in Congress,” said Kirkpatrick, who represents a total of 12 Native American tribes in Congressional District One. “This legislation, which reflects the input of local stakeholders, should empower tribes and reinforce tribal sovereignty. It’s a priority of mine to improve the quality of life for my Navajo and Hopi constituents, especially those who have suffered from the legacy of the Bennett Freeze.”

The Navajo Technical Amendments Act of 2015 amends the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act to provide for the following:

1. Navajo Reservation Boundary Clarification. The Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act authorizes the Secretary to transfer up to 250,000 acres of lands under Bureau of Land Management (BLM) jurisdiction to the Navajo Nation so long as these lands are within 18 miles of the Nation’s present reservation. The bill clarifies that the Navajo Nation’s trust lands are included within the definition of the reservation for this purpose.

2. Re-selection of Lands to Correct Surveying Error. The BLM committed a surveying error, resulting in the Navajo Nation selecting 757 more acres of land than it believed it had selected under the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act. This bill corrects this error, allowing the Nation to deselect and reselect 757 acres subject to the restrictions in the Act.

3. Fair Rental Value Payments Report. The Navajo Nation pays rental income for Navajo families living on certain lands. Due to lengthy delays in receiving rental determinations, much of these payments are the interest costs. This bill requires the Secretary to evaluate this process and create a plan for bringing rental determinations current.

4. Navajo Tribe Sovereignty Empowerment Demonstration Project. The Navajo Nation seeks to exercise more sovereignty over its lands and spur economic development in the areas impacted by the Act and by a 40-year development freeze in what is known as the Former Bennett Freeze Area. This bill encourages development and streamlines the regulatory process by waiving certain federal laws, while keeping in place their Navajo equivalents, for the limited purposes of renewable energy, housing, public and community facilities, and infrastructure development (limited to 150,000 acres in identified zones).

5. Relinquishment of Accommodation Agreement and Eligibility for Relocation Benefits. A small number of Navajo families who signed agreements allowing them to remain on Hopi-partitioned land now wish to relinquish those agreements and relocate pursuant to the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act. This bill would allow such relinquishment.

6. Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund. The Act established the Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund to provide monies to the Navajo Nation to address the adverse impacts of federal relocation of Navajo families. Approximately $16 million was appropriated to this fund, to be paid back out of revenues from certain lands the Nation acquired pursuant to the Act. However, those lands have never been developed. This bill releases the Navajo Nation from the obligation to repay these monies and reauthorizes the Trust Fund, allowing Congress to appropriate development dollars in future years should it so choose.

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