Tree thinning project starting on SR 264 west of Window Rock

Drivers should expect intermittent delays

The Arizona Department of Transportation is partnering with Navajo Nation Forestry to thin trees on State Route 264 between Ganado and Window Rock in preparation for the second phase of a roadway reconstruction project.

The Navajo Nation Forestry and ADOT will be cutting and removing the trees starting Monday, Feb. 2 between Ganado and Window Rock (mileposts 450-459).  The cutting and removal should be done in approximately four weeks. Work hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. For safety reasons motorists are asked not to stop in the tree-cutting areas to pick up the wood.

Motorists may experience delays of up to 15 minutes while larger trees are being cut and removed next to the roadway. There will be narrowed traffic lanes and a reduced speed limit.  ADOT advises drivers to proceed through the work zone with caution, slow down, and be alert for construction equipment and personnel.

For more information about this project, please call Rod Wigman at 928-308-8233, or email rwigman@azdot.gov

IRS releases form and instructions for health care coverage exemption

WASHINGTON—The Internal Revenue Service has released the final version of the form and instructions that may be used to report or claim the exemption for American Indians, Alaska Natives and other individuals who are eligible to receive services from an Indian Health Care provider. 

Form 8965 may now be used to report a coverage exemption granted by the marketplace or to claim a coverage exemption on an individual tax return.

“Unless they qualify for an exemption, everyone must have had health insurance in 2014 or else they will have to pay the shared responsibility. Enrolled citizens of the Navajo Nation qualify for the exemption – it is a lifetime exemption – but they must apply for it,” said Carolyn Drouin, government and legislative affairs associate at the Navajo Nation Washington Office.

The exemption can be applied for in one of two ways: through the marketplace, or by claiming the exemption on their 2014 tax return filings. “If they applied through the marketplace, they would need to have their exemption number when working on their tax return so it can be reported,” said Drouin.

In addition, if for any month a member of a tax household had neither health care coverage nor a coverage exemption (non-IHS eligible individuals), these instructions provide the information necessary to calculate the individual shared responsibility payment. 

Secretary Jewell Celebrates Agreement with Seminole Tribe of Florida to Help Spur Investment, Commercial Development

Tribal leasing regulations foster economic development, represent another step furthering tribal self-determination

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – As part of President Obama’s commitment to empowering American Indian and Alaska Native tribal nations and strengthening their economies, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Michael Black today joined Seminole Tribal Chairman James E. Billie to formally approve tribal leasing regulations that will help spur investment and commercial development on the Seminole Tribe’s reservations.

Upon approval of the tribal regulations by the Department of the Interior, tribes may approve land leases without Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approval, fostering tribal self-governance in the approval of leases for homes and small businesses in Indian Country.

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida will now decide for itself how it wants to do business on its lands – from making it easier for families to buy and build houses to opening businesses in the communities where they have lived for generations,” said Secretary Jewell, who also serves as chair of the White House Council on Native American Affairs. “Today’s agreement will encourage economic development and help create jobs while strengthening tribal sovereignty and self-determination by putting these decisions back in the hands of the tribe.”

Today’s signing ceremony comes on the heels of the White House Tribal Nations Conference held in December 2014, when leaders from all 566 federally recognized tribes were invited to Washington, D.C. to interact directly with the President and senior cabinet and administration officials. The conference – the sixth for the Obama Administration – continues to build on the President’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country.

“This is an important day for the Seminole Tribe, which will be able to process residential and business leases without the need for BIA approval,” said Chairman Billie. “This authority will allow the Tribe to better serve its members and create new opportunities for economic development on the Tribe’s reservations. We appreciate the Department’s assistance in working with the Tribe through the approval process.”

“Tribal self-determination means the tribe will now decide how its lands may be used for the good of its members and how it wants to do business on its lands,” said BIA Director Black. “The Seminole Tribe’s endeavors contribute to the local, state and regional economies and the tribe’s leasing initiative will further that economic vitality and contribution.”

Tribal council members and several tribal government officials joined Secretary Jewell, Director Black and Chairman Billie during a signing ceremony this morning at Seminole Tribal Headquarters in Hollywood, Florida.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida resides in communities located on six component reservations: Big Cypress, Brighton, Fort Pierce, Hollywood, Immokalee and Tampa. The Tribe expects to use its new authority for business, residential and biomass energy development, as well as for cultural, educational, recreational, spiritual, and other purposes.

Under the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act (HEARTH Act), signed by President Obama in July 2012, federally recognized tribes may develop and implement their own laws governing leasing of federal tribal trust lands for residential, business, renewable energy and other purposes. The law provides that such tribes may lease their lands without federal approval, promoting greater investment in tribal communities and job creation, both of which support tribal self-determination.

The Secretary’s action today brings to 15 the number of federally recognized tribes with leasing regulations approved under the HEARTH Act. An additional 14 tribes have HEARTH Act applications under current review or modification. A full list of approved regulations and additional information about the HEART Act is available HERE.

The HEARTH Act complements a parallel effort Interior undertook to overhaul the BIA regulations that govern its process for approving surface leases on lands the federal government holds in trust for Indian tribes and individuals. As trustee, Interior manages about 56 million surface acres in Indian Country.

The new regulations were finalized in December 2012 and represent the most comprehensive reform of the BIA’s antiquated leasing process. The new regulations fundamentally change the way the BIA does business, providing clarity by identifying specific processes – with enforceable timelines – through which the BIA must review leases. The regulation also establishes separate, simplified processes for residential, business, and renewable energy development, rather than using a “one-size fits all” approach that treats a lease for a single family home the same as a lease for a large wind energy project.

Navajo Nation’s New Congressional Delegation Takes Office

WASHINGTON—After capturing control of both Houses of Congress in the November elections, the Republicans have a majority in the Senate of 54-46 and in the House of Representatives of 246-188. There are 13 new senators and 58 new members of the House of Representatives. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is the new Senate Majority Leader and Harry Reid, D-Nev., retains his Democrat leadership role as the Senate minority leader. John Boehner, R-Ohio., was reelected as the House speaker and Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., remains the House minority leader.

There were no changes in Senate representation from Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. However, in regards to the House of Representatives, Arizona has two new legislators. Ruben Gallego, Democrat, takes over for the retired Ed Pastor in District 7 and Martha McSally, Republican, takes over for District 2 Democrat Ron Barber. Democrat Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Raúl Grijalva and Kyrsten Simena, and Republican Reps. Paul Gosar, Matt Salmon, David Schweikert, and Trent Franks, all return to the House of Representatives.

The three incumbent representatives from New Mexico are all returning: Democrat Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján, and Republican Rep. Steve Pearce. Utah will have one new legislator coming into office, Mia Love, Republican, who replaces District 4 Democrat Jim Matheson. Republican Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Jason Chaffetz are all returning to the House of Representatives.

Committee assignments have been made in the Senate. John McCain, R-Ariz., will chair the Armed Services Committee. He will also be on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Indian Affairs Committee. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is on the Foreign Relations Committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Judiciary Committee and the Special Committee on Aging.

From Utah, Republican Sen. Mike Lee is on the Armed Services Committee, Energy and Natural Resources, the Joint Economic Committee, Judiciary Committee. Orin Hatch, R-Utah., is on Finance Committee, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Judiciary Committee and the Special Committee on Aging.

On behalf of New Mexico, Democrat Sen. Tom Udall is on Appropriations Committee, Commerce Committee, Foreign Relations Committee, Rules Committee and the Indian Affairs Committee. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., is on the Armed Services Committee, Energy Committee, Intelligence Committee and the Joint Economic Committee.

Much of the committee rosters from the House are not yet available as of the first day of the new Congress, however representative Rob Bishop, R-Utah., will lead the Natural Resources committee, which is the committee of jurisdiction over Indian affairs. It is expected that Don Young, R-Alaska., will remain the chair of the subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., are also expected to be on the subcommittee.

The membership of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is as follows:

Republicans
John Barrasso, Wyo., CHAIRMAN
John McCain, Ariz.
Lisa Murkowski, Alaska
John Hoeven, N.D.
Mike Crapo, Idaho
Steve Daines, Mont., New Member
James Lankford, Okla., New Member
Jerry Moran, Kansas, New Member

Democrats
Jon Tester, Mont., RANKING
Maria Cantwell, Wash.
Tom Udall, N.M.
Al Franken, Minn.
Brian Schatz, Hawaii
Heidi Heitkamp, N.D.

Republicans gained two committee member assignments from the Democrats after winning the majority. Republican Deb Fischer of Nebraska will no longer be on the Committee. The Democrats lose retiring Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska., who was not reelected, on the committee.

114th Congress Takes Office

WASHINGTON—The 114th Congress, and a new Republican majority in both Houses, took office this week. There are signs that this Congress may be more productive than the 113th Congress. Large legislative efforts, such as complete immigration reform or a rewrite of the tax code are not likely to occur, but incremental changes are possible.

The new Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that the first item on the agenda of the new Senate will be legislation approving the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The House has also indicated that it will take up the Keystone XL issue. This legislation will face a veto.

The House is also likely to hold early votes on legislation effecting the Affordable Care Act that would change the definition of a full-time work-week as 40 hours and that would exempt some veterans from the employer insurance mandate.

Over the next few months, the 114th Congress may address significant policy initiatives being pursued by the Obama Administration, including immigration, Cuba, Iran, and the use of military force against ISIS. Many proposals that were approved in the Republican controlled House during the 113th Congress, but that did not see votes or debate in the then Democrat controlled Senate are likely to be reintroduced.

With a budget resolution typically due by April 15, spending levels for fiscal 2016 will likely come up quickly in the new Congress. The ‘sequester’ is once again in effect following the expiration of a two-year budget deal. Under sequestration, defense spending will rise slightly to $523 billion, while non-defense spending will fall slightly to $492.3 billion.

President Obama has indicated his willingness to use his veto authority against legislation that his administration disagrees with, but has expressed a desire to move forward on areas of agreement.

Both President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have described these areas of common ground as free trade, overhauling the tax code, and improving the Nation’s infrastructure.

The new Senate majority leader has indicated that he thinks there is enough bipartisan support on issues such as energy, taxes, and the health industry to send bills to the president’s desk.

16 students graduate from intensive NGS training program

LeCHEE, Ariz. ­– For only the third time in its nearly 40-year history, all of the students who began one of the most intensive training programs in the energy industry successfully completed it to become regular employees at the Navajo Generating Station.

Last month, two women and 14 men graduated the seven-week-long NGS Power Plant Fundamentals School. The required course instructs each new employee in every phase of NGS’s technical operation, procedures and safety.

ngs_2014

100 PERCENT SUCCESS RATE – The latest Power Plant Fundamental School saw all 16 participants graduate. This was only the third time in its history everyone successfully finished the difficult class. From rear left to right, the students are Kyle Begaye, Terry John, John Murray, Justin Noble, Joe Roundtree, Zach Jones, Larry Mallahan and Brian Davis. From front left to right, they are Nathan Clizzie, Scott Gilmore, Celesta Littleman, Freeman Benally, Teresa Hansen, Curtis Slim, Erwin Marks and Darren Redshirt. *George Hardeen Photo

In his 35 years of teaching this course, Tom Hull said he remembers only one class having all participants graduate. In 2001, a class half this size had all of its participants graduate.

About 1,000 applied for the 16 available positions. Currently, 90 percent – or 443 of NGS’s 494 employees – are Navajo preference.

“This will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do,” Hull tells every new class. “We basically teach two years worth of material in seven weeks. So there’s no down time. Everything we teach is important. Everything we teach needs to be learned and remembered.”

“Having the entire class make it is rare to see happen,” said NGS Plant Manager Bob Talbot. “We all have to take care of each other. If you see one of your co-workers about to do something that is unsafe, you need to stop and have that discussion. It’s expected for you to do that, even if I’m senior to you.”

The program consists of 10 hours a day of classroom lecture and field work four days a week, followed by a weekly test. The course outline is 50 pages long.

It includes sections on every aspect of NGS’s parts, equipment, procedures and operations, from electron theory to the railroad that delivers coal, from physics to the properties of superheated steam, from the Federal Reclamation Act of 1902 to the history of why NGS was built where it is on the Navajo Nation.

This class had a diverse mix of Navajo students with a wide array of experience. One is an aerospace engineer with 27 years experience that includes building rocket engines and working on the space shuttle following the Challenger disaster.

Two are recent Marine and Navy veterans. Another is a mechanical engineer and one has an MBA. Some students had experience at other power plants while others are recent high school grads. One was an Italian language interpreter at the Glen Canyon Dam.

Most of the students agreed the course was tougher than most college courses but that teamwork, dedication and devotion was what got them through as a group.

Justin Noble of Kayenta was working at a medical distribution company in Phoenix when he learned a new class would begin and he had been accepted. Both he and his wife wanted to move home and leave the big city behind.

But in the third week of the course he faced a critical decision: skip a day of class when his new daughter was born in Tuba City or stay to avoid risk of not passing.

“My wife and I talked about this possibility,” he said. “We agreed that SRP offers such an amazing improvement to lives that we decided that if this was going to happen for us, it would be worth it for me to stay in class to achieve this goal for our family.”

Now he says both his son and daughter will be able to attend any college they want because of the financial security his new job will provide.

“Their lives will be ten-fold better than my life was, and they will have many more opportunities than I was ever given,” Justin said.

Erwin Marks left home in Tonalea 40 years ago to pursue his education and career. His work in aerospace engineering and design took him to California, Utah, New Mexico, Indiana, Ohio and elsewhere around the country.

But in recent years, because the industry has withstood repeated reductions in force, layoffs and budget cutbacks, he decided it was time to leave his job with Raytheon Missile Systems to try a new field, and the energy industry was a good fit.

He said business and people will always continue to need energy as cities, towns and the economy continue to grow. But this job allows him to return home after so many years away.

“I have spent a lot of years away from here,” Erwin said. “I used to visit maybe once a year for a few days. To come back and to live where I have my childhood memories, that’s an opportunity that I can’t express. This is a good opportunity because the way I see it I get to be in my own homeland and be in a position to be able to contribute to the needs of a company and to the needs of a people.”

Teresa Hansen says confidently she always knew what she wanted to do. The Page native and Navy veteran was eager to apply to the course because her mother has worked at NGS for 30 years and her sister worked there for 11 years before transferring to Phoenix.

She said when she joined the Navy, she was already planning her future.

“I told them I wanted a job that when I get out I could go work at the power plant,” she said. “So I got a job in gas turbines and worked on hovercrafts in the Navy.”

Although she loved the Navy and got to see the world, she said always wanted to return home.

“Yeah, my whole idea was always to join the military to come back here to Page,” she said.

Working at NGS, she says, makes that possible.

Scott Gilmore was living in Scottsdale and working at GoDaddy.com. In college he studied subjects from chemical engineering to statistics. He said he had no background in welding or with boilers but that his inspiration was his father who took the same NGS course in 1989.

Scott said he applied twice before but wasn’t selected until now. He was so dedicated to succeed, he said, that he quit his Phoenix job after the first interview but before it was confirmed that he was accepted into the course.

“It was a lot of information at one time,” he said. “It just came fast and quick and yet you had to pick it up. You had to apply yourself. You had to try. It was really just go home, eat, study, go to sleep. Get up, learn something else, go home, eat, study.”

Freeman Benally of Shonto also was inspired to get into the course and successfully complete it because of his father, although for a different reason. The Fort Lewis College biology graduate felt the need to be home to help.

“It means a lot to me because my father is not in great health,” Freeman said. “Winters can be hard and I’m glad I can be here in order to help him. That’s really what makes me want to stay here, my father. And NGS provided a job for me in order to do so I’m grateful for it.”

He said the program “helps you dig deep within yourself to actually find out who you are in stressful situations.”

Terry John, known as TJ, grew up at Navajo Mountain. He said he’s one of those students who always struggled in school and felt like he struggled after high school as well.

His last job was at the White Mesa Uranium Mill in Blanding, Utah, but he wanted to come home. He said he had to successfully complete the Fundamentals School or face the prospect of going on the road for construction and other jobs.

He credits his classmates with helping him learn the material and push everyone through.

“It was a lot harder than anybody ever told me it would be,” TJ said.

He said he got support from his entire family and that his wife was overjoyed when he told her he passed.

“She actually started crying because she was so happy,” he said.

Curtis Slim grew up in Page and always knew about NGS. He said it was a big move on his part when he gave up his job as an Italian language interpreter at the Glen Canyon Dam. He said he learned Italian as a missionary to Italy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

He said Italian visitors to Page were astounded when a young Navajo approached them and said in perfect Italian, “I’m from Arizona. Where are you from in Italy,” Curtis said. “One guy actually gave me a piece of his jewelry because he was, you know, really excited, really happy.”

He said moving to the power plant from the dam is definitely a big career change and big opportunity.

“I was teaching people about hydroelectric power,” he said. “This is a whole different world, and it scared me. But those teachers are some of the best. As far as college professors, they were above that. I love what I’m going to do, whether operations, maintenance or railroad.”

Celesta Littleman of LeChee said she “had it rough” growing up. She was a teenage mom struggling financially to get by for years.

With determination and grit, she was able to put herself through Arizona State University, earn a degree in criminology and criminal justice in 2009, and then graduate from the New Mexico State Police Academy. She went on to work at the maximum security New Mexico State Penitentiary, surrounded by and competing with men.

“If you put your mind to it and stay devoted and committed, anything’s possible,” Celesta said. “I believe that, I really do.”

“I was a single mother, I was on welfare, but I did it and I graduated from ASU,” she said. “I did the same thing as well in New Mexico with law enforcement. All men. And I made it though all those academies, New Mexico State Police and the penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe. And then I went through this. It’s a big accomplishment.”