Proposed 'Port Of Navajo' - Utah Wilderness Saved, Again!
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – Von K. Jenson, general manager of Rolling Hills Ranches, is hoping to partner with the Navajo Nation to create an intermodal rail port and Foreign Trade Zone on land adjacent to Nahata Dziil Chapter.
Jenson purchased land formerly known as the Lombardi Ranch in Navajo, Ariz., which consists of private and state lands, according to Ernest Hubbell, former Navajo Nation Council delegate for Nahata Dziil, or New Lands, and liaison with the project.
The intermodal rail port and distribution center tentatively would be called the Port of Navajo, Hubbell said, “just like the Port of Los Angeles where all of these cargoes and shipments are coming in from overseas.” What he and Jenson would like to see is some of those shipments that come in by rail, load off and on at the Port of Navajo.
The developer hopes to connect to a Salt River Project-owned rail spur that ties in to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. The spur is used to transport Navajo coal to power plants in St. Johns and Springerville, according to Hubbell.
“Our intentions are to connect off of that spur and develop that area eastwardly into the New Lands and run a railroad spur through there,” he recently told the Resources Committee.
Rolling Hills is willing to give up its state lands to Navajo in order to generate a foreign trade zone. Jenson said he has spoken with two senators and they see no problem with Navajo getting a Foreign Trade Zone designation.
“Without the support of the Navajo Nation this project isn't going to go. With the support of the Navajo Nation it will go,” he said. “We are giving up state property. Mr. Roman Bitsui (Navajo-Hopi Land Commission) met with the state and it was his suggestion that we work out a lease basis, changing it from an agricultural lease to a commercial lease, and look at purchasing it from the state.
“We would like to have the Nation involved to help grow the area and make sure whatever goes in there is clean industry,” he said. “Working together we can probably make a very successful business venture.”
Foreign Trade Zones are considered to be outside of U.S. Customs Territory for the purpose of customs duty payment. Therefore, goods entering Foreign Trade Zones are not subject to customs tariffs until the goods leave the zone and are formally entered into U.S. Customs Territory. Merchandise that is shipped to foreign countries from a Foreign Trade Zone is exempt from duty payments.
“We're located in very prime area and we would have traffic from Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Albuquerque trucking industry. We've got pretty close to $5 million expended on this project already,” Hubbell said. A site plan of the project shows multi-modal-, terminal-, and warehouse/distribution facilities, and a future 1,000-acre Navajo Commerce Park to be registered as a Foreign Trade Zone.
In addition to rail access, the Port of Navajo would provide interim warehousing scalable from 30,000 to 1 million square feet, as well as 35,000 square feet of below 0 degrees (F) storage. Rolling Hills Ranches would develop the project with its own funds and employ largely Navajo workers.
Hubbell said some roads and cattle guards have been developed and they have been working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the railroad to build a four-lane, $17 million bridge which would span the river and the railroad tracks.
Jenson said potential funding sources have told him that once he has the backing of the Nation and the chapter, they are willing to start putting the project together. “The Navajo Nation can do in a day what would take me 25 years or never,” especially in dealing with the state and SRP, he said.
Nahata Dziil Chapter voted 26-0-0 last August to support the project. “This is a gateway to opportunity,” Arnold Begay, chapter president, told Resources Committee.
Jenson said Burlington Northern is interested in bulk storage in the area, Wal-Mart could use a distribution center, and Swift Trucking also has expressed interest. Other investors have looked at establishing a major truck stop, a possible casino, and a hotel, none of which would be at Navajo's expense, he said.
SRP will not consent to connect to the railroad spur until the Navajo Nation expresses its support for the project, Hubbell said. “That's the only thing we're asking the Navajo Nation, the Resources Committee – to direct and probably tell Salt River Project to allow us to connect to that spur.”
Rolling Hills Ranches also is offering a special discount program for Homeland Security deployed military personnel in Arizona as they protect the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant west of Phoenix, the Hoover Dam on the Nevada border, and shore up the Mexican border, a Dec. 11 press release states.
“According to Rolling Hills Ranches, it seems clear that there is a move under way to assign U.S. troops. As an act to support our troops, Rolling Hills Ranches in Navajo, Ariz., has decided to offer a discount on property purchased by military personnel stationed in Arizona in an effort to encourage and strengthen the position of the Department of Homeland Security in the state.
“It is the hope of Rolling Hills Ranches that this affordable ranch land will ease financial burdens and offer a place of respite for off-duty military personnel as they move their families to the state of Arizona.”
Ranches from 10 to 40 acres are available for purchase and most of the property is priced from $3,000 to $5,000 per acre, depending on views and location, according to Rolling Hills' Web site.
Sec. Salazar Cancels Sale Of 77 Oil And Gas Leases In So. Utah
We've got more great news to share with you! Today Interior Secretary Salazar canceled the sale of 77 oil and gas leases on wilderness-quality lands offered for sale in December 2008 by the Bush administration.
SUWA and our environmental partners filed suit to stop the leasing, and in January a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order that prevented the Bureau of Land Management from finalizing the sale. Secretary Salazar's decision is a tremendous step forward ensuring that spectacular public landscapes like Desolation Canyon, areas near Arches and Canyonlands National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Nine Mile Canyon will be given a reprieve from the chopping block.
The December lease sale was only made possible because of the wildly unbalanced Resource Management Plans that the Bush administration left us with before leaving office. These plans open large swaths of Utah’s wilderness quality lands to oil and gas leasing, drilling and destructive off road vehicle use.
Yesterday we amended our legal action and refocused the litigation to challenge not only the December 2008 lease sale, but also the Resource Management Plans that led to the sale, including the off road vehicle (ORV) travel plans, the lack of consideration of climate change, the failure to designate Wild and Scenic Rivers, and the refusal to consider designating new Wilderness Study Areas.
Secretary Salazar's action today is a critical first step in remedying the disastrous environmental policies of the Bush administration, but there is much more to be done. Until the six flawed Resource Management Plans are revised, the Utah BLM will be able to proceed on auto-pilot, selling more oil and gas leases in special places and allowing ORVs to damage wild landscapes. We’re hopeful that Secretary Salazar’s strong decision on the December 2008 sale is a sign that he’s ready and willing to tackle the real source of the problem.
Thank you for your concern about this issue. Working together, and with support from great activists like you, we can provide permanent protection for Utah's wild lands!
The Staff at SUWA
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