Kirkpatrick introduces bill to amend Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act

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Contact: Jared King
Communications Director
Navajo Nation Washington Office
202-200-0625
jking@nnwo.org

***LEGISLATIVE ALERT***

Kirkpatrick introduces bill to amend Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act

WASHINGTON—On July 9, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., introduced HR 5039, a bill to amend Public Law 93-531. This Navajo Technical Amendments Act of 2014 amends the Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act to make some changes that would foster development and efficiency on the part of the relocation program and roll the rehabilitation of the Former Bennett Freeze Lands.

HR 5039 makes six technical changes to the existing law:

1. Clarifies the boundary of the Navajo Nation for land selection purposes. The Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act authorizes the secretary to transfer up to 250,000 acres of lands under Bureau of Land Management 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. Allows for the deselection and reselection of lands to correct a BBM 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. Provides for a study to ensure the fair and timely determination of fair rental value payments. 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. Create a Navajo Tribal 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. Allow for Navajo families living on Hopi partitioned land to relinquish their accommodation agreements and restore their 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. Forgives existing loan payments to the Navajo Nation in the 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. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

A hearing on the legislation has not yet been announced.

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