Navajo Tribe looking to gaming, businesses and theme park for revenue

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AUTHOR: George Hardeen

Despite the expected loss of revenue from the closure of the 35-year-old
Black Mesa Mine on Saturday, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. is
optimistic about millions of dollars of new revenue that could be available beginning
in 2006 and beyond.

In reports to numerous chapters throughout the Christmas season, Shirley
said that with the opening of casinos, the planned development of the Desert
Rock Power Plant by 2010, the development of a theme park near Williams, Ariz.,
and other plans, the Navajo Nation could expect to see upwards of $360
million per year in new revenue.

“Today, coal, gas and natural resources is where we get our revenue from,”
Shirley told about 80 resident at Lake Valley Chapter. He gave similar reports
at White Cone, Nageezi, Red Valley, Chinle, Nazlini. “We realize about $160
million from resources paid to Navajo Nation. When the casinos actually go
in, it will add up to $260 million. At least it will help with our budget.”

This year, he said, the Navajo Nation hired its Navajo Nation Gaming
Regulatory Office director, Eddie Lockett, who brings years of experience to the
job. In 2006, the Navajos plan to open at least two casinos that are expected to
bring in $100 million in new revenue.

Casino locations under consideration are Shiprock, Nahata Dzill, Iyanbito,
LeChee, Cameron and possibly Chinle, Shirley said.

“We wish it would hurry up and happen,” he said.

He added that the tribe still needs to consider a revenue-sharing formula
for host chapters to receive casino revenue as well.

“We’re mindful of the Local Governance Act,” he said. “Authority needs to go
back to the local government.”

Navajo veterans, students and the elderly are in particular need of funding
and will depend on these new revenues, Shirley said. He has proposed that
gaming revenue for these needs be specifically designated He said some 17,000
students apply for scholarships each year but only about 6,000 can be funded.

Currently, many students are forced to borrow money for school or have their
parents pay for their college educations, he said.

Also under discussion is development of Desert Rock Power Plant in the Four
Corners area, he said. Shirley said he supports its construction because it
will use the most advanced technology available to reduce harmful air
emissions, would produce hundreds of quality jobs through its construction phase
until 2010, and beyond through operations, and bring in about $50 million in
revenue to the Nation.

Another project Shirley supports is a theme park planned for Williams,
AZ, which will target tourists en route to the Grand Canyon.

The Navajo role would be to create a tax-free bond district with land used
for the park. The project could bring $53 million a year to the tribe, he said.

Lastly, Shirley reports that his Capital Improvement Plan is still viable
although he is exploring other funding sources because the tribal council has
not considered it.

One plan is to request an interest-free loan from Congress. Shirley said
he’s discussed the idea with U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici who asked him for a
proposal. He said the U.S. government is lending money to other countries often.

“We’re a country right here,” he said.

The funding would allow the Navajos to do the same thing the CIP $500
million bond proposal would. Topping Shirley’s priority list for the CIP is
construction of seven Public Safety/Judicial Complexes, Headstart centers, senior
centers, multi-purpose community buildings and waterline and power line
extensions.

Shirley also reported that he is pleased the Navajo Nation Council defeated
legislation to use $33 million from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. He said
the vision of council delegates in 1993 was to create a way to put aside
money for the expressed purpose of purchasing land to consolidate and expand the
Navajo land base.

Last week’s special session of the tribal council was the sixth attempt to
liquidate $33 million from the fund to give $300,000 to each chapter whether
chapters had plans to use it or not.

SOURCE:

This article first appeared in the Native Times.