WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – The commanders of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, and Sacramento districts joined USACE’s South Pacific Division commander for a collaborative meeting with representatives from several departments and agencies within the Navajo Nation, April 23-25, 2018.
The Corps of Engineers Tribal Nations Technical Center of Expertise (TNTCX) helped organize the three-day meeting between the USACE team and the Navajo Nation to facilitate future work between the two groups. This was the first regional partnership meeting organized by the center.
“The USACE Tribal Nations Technical Center of Expertise team is excited to help organize and participate in this regional partnership meeting with the Navajo Nation,” said Michael Fedoroff, TNTCX director (acting). “We value our relationship with the Navajo, and strive to deliver Navajo Nation the best water resource projects available through USACE authorities. This meeting is a great step in our continued efforts to improve project delivery and build working relationships with our tribal partners.”
Geographically, the 110 chapters of the Navajo Nation are spread across the Corps’ Albuquerque, Los Angeles and Sacramento districts.
Additionally, as a federally recognized tribe, the Navajo Nation has a unique relationship with the U.S. federal government, and thus USACE. As a result, the Corps’ operates under a set of Tribal Policy principles including the recognition of tribal sovereignty, that the federal government has a Trust Responsibility to recognized tribes, and that the relationship between the tribe and the Corps is government-to-government. Other policies are that USACE will reach out to tribes and have honest consultation before and during decision making; USACE will promote programs, projects and other activities that build economic capacity and foster abilities to manage Tribal resources while preserving cultural identities; and that the Corps of Engineers will seek to preserve and protect trust resources, comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and ensure reasonable access to sacred sites.
In the spirit of these principles, the TNTCX facilitated the April meeting. The meeting brought together technical representatives from USACE and several departments and agencies within the Navajo Nation. It was a time for both to listen to the other and to deepen the relationship.
The Honorable Jonathan Nez, vice-president of the Navajo Nation, addressed the group the first day, discussing issues facing his nation – some of which the Corps of Engineers can provide technical assistance with, such as watershed management.
During the three-day meeting, working groups formed among the technical staff and there was much discussion on USACE program authorities as well as the processes, procedures, and protocols of both groups required to successfully complete projects.
To help USACE leadership better understand the issues and challenges they face, Clara Pratte, Navajo Nation chief of staff, escorted South Pacific Division Commander Brig. Gen. Peter Helmlinger; Albuquerque District Commander Lt. Col. James Booth; Los Angeles District Commander Col. Kirk Gibbs; and Sacramento District Commander Col. David Ray on several site visits.
The first stop for the team was the Navajo Nation Zoo. For many years the zoo was subject to severe flooding. For this successful project, the Albuquerque District was able to design and implement several flood risk reduction measures which diverted the floodwaters and improved drainage; keeping the animals, staff and exhibits drier and safe.
After the zoo tour, the commanders saw two road sites and a bridge. Because the Navajo Nation is geographically large, there are many miles of roads. It’s estimated that more than half of the roads are in poor or failing condition. Because of the high cost to pave a road and the limited resources they have – many roads are unpaved; they are either dirt or gravel. To pave a mile of road costs $2 million; to gravel a mile of dirt road costs $400,000; and it’s only $700 to blade a mile of dirt road. With the cost savings of unpaved roads, comes a trade-off: accessibility, especially in bad weather. The two road sites the leadership visited were where a soil stabilization treatment had been applied to see how well it performed and how long it lasted. These test sites are helping the Navajo Nation Division of Transportation make decisions on how to treat and maintain other roads in the future.
While no project agreements were signed during the meeting, participants felt it was a productive time. There were many opportunities presented that have great potential because of the relationships formed at this meeting.
"Working with the Navajo Nation is very exciting! The partnership we have established continues to grow and there are so many opportunities to help support the Nation's programs and really benefit a lot of people," said Monika Sanchez, Albuquerque District project manager.