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Great Lakes Aviation sues over unpaid fees in Four Corners

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FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — The city of Farmington says Great Lakes Aviation failed to pay landing fees and terminal fees before the company ceased Four Corners Regional Airport service.

The Daily Times of Farmington, New Mexico, reports Farmington filed a complaint in state district court last week asking for the court to order Great Lakes to pay the alleged unpaid fees.

The city alleges Great Lakes owes $693.88 for landing fees and $2,584.49 for terminal rent in September. It also alleges the airline owes $394.25 in landing fees and $2,311.72 in terminal rent for October.

The Cheyenne, Wyoming-based Great Lakes Aviation offered commercial flights to and from Farmington until November 2017. The airline cited a pilot shortage as the primary reason for leaving the Four Corners Regional Airport.

Great Lakes Aviation CEO Doug Voss says he has not seen the lawsuit.

Potential new coal plant operator offers few new details

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D0132B Navajo Generating Station, a 2250 megawatt coal-fired power plant located on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Page, Arizona

By FELICIA FONSECA, Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A Chicago-based company in negotiations to take over a coal-fired power plant in northern Arizona said it would run the generating station at less than half its existing capacity to ensure it’s economical, a company official said Tuesday.

Fewer employees, and a new lease and coal supply agreement also are in the mix as Middle River Power pursues a takeover of the Navajo Generating Station. The current owners of the 2,250-megwatt plant near the Arizona-Utah border are planning to shut it down next year unless someone else buys it, saying power produced by natural gas is cheaper.

Joseph Greco, a senior vice president for Middle River Power, told Arizona utility regulators the company would operate the plant at 44 percent of its capacity, and differently during peak and off-peak demand, making it more economical while ensuring a steady power base. The company offered few other details, citing non-disclosure agreements.

“We believe there is a solution to be made,” Greco said.

The power plant sits on the Navajo Nation and is fed by coal jointly owned by the Navajo and Hopi tribes.
Navajo President Russell Begaye has said a lease agreement with Middle River Power and its parent company, New York-based Avenue Capital, could come before tribal lawmakers at their October session. Still, a sale is considered a longshot.

Tuesday’s meeting before the Arizona Corporation Commission was meant as an update on the plant’s future. The Arizona Corporation Commission doesn’t regulate the power plant or its majority owner, the Salt River Project. But it oversees two Arizona utilities that own shares of the power plant, Tucson Electric Power and Arizona Public Service Co.
The Salt River Project said it’s been in talks with Middle River Power but couldn’t discuss specifics because of a non-disclosure agreement. In the meantime, the utility is working to place employees at the Navajo Generating Station in other jobs at SRP. Deb Scott, senior director of regulatory policy at SRP, said 140 of the 443 employees have left for other jobs, and their previous positions are being filled by contractors.

One of the bigger hurdles for Middle River Power is finding utilities that will buy power from the coal plant.
California and Nevada already are moving away from coal-produced energy. Middle River Power has focused its attention on the Central Arizona Project, which has used the power from the Navajo Generating Station to move water through a canal system to Arizona’s most populous areas but has said it can save money buying power on the open market. Middle River says natural gas is too volatile.

The Navajo Generating Station once was predicted to stay open until 2044, and it’s unclear how long Middle River would run it if a sale is finalized.

Clark Tenakhongva, vice chairman of the Hopi Tribe, said Tuesday that the tribe needs another five to 10 years to better chart its future. Coal revenue provides about 85 percent of the Hopi Tribe’s budget, and thousands of people rely on coal to heat their homes on the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

“If the plant does shut down, that’s another part of the headache I’ll have to address, how am I going to provide heating to all my people up north?” he said.

Coal and lease payments supply about 22 percent of the Navajo Nation budget.

Nicole Horseherder, a Navajo woman who is advocating for the plant to shut down, said she wanted more answers about Middle River’s plans, particularly when it comes to cleaning the site and impacts to tribal members.
“To date, MRP has offered to provide power at competitive prices without a shred of detail on how they will do so or evidence that doing so is even economically feasible,” she wrote to utility regulators.

Arizona tribal casino gambling revenue up by 4.4 percent

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Department of Gaming says contributions to the state from tribal gambling revenue will be more than $27 million for the quarter that ended on June 30.

That’s a 4.4 percent increase when compared with the same quarter in the 2017 fiscal year.

Department of Gaming director Daniel Bergin said Thursday that it’s the sixth consecutive quarter with an increase in statewide tribal gaming revenue.

More than $13 million will go to Arizona’s Instructional Improvement Fund for education with almost $7 million going to support trauma and emergency services.

Other funding is used for the department’s operating costs, state tourism and wildlife conservation.

Tribes with Class III casinos contribute 1 percent to 8 percent of gross gambling revenue to the state, cities, towns and counties.

Navajo Code Talkers Day celebration planned for Tuesday

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WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. (AP) — Navajo officials say a celebration of the Navajo Code Talkers will be held Tuesday.

The Navajo Nation Office of the president and vice president says this year’s annual event will start at 9 a.m. in Window Rock, Arizona, at the Navajo Nation Fairgrounds.

There will be a parade, a wreath ceremony and a 21-gun salute in the morning. A Gourd Dance and a screening of the movie, “Navajo Code Talkers: Journey of Remembrance” will take place in the afternoon.

5th lawsuit filed against EPA over 2015 mine waste spill

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A fifth lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over a mine waste spill the agency inadvertently triggered in 2015, polluting rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The lawsuit was filed Aug. 3 in federal court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, by 295 Navajo farmers and ranchers. Their attorney, Kate Ferlic, said Friday the lawsuit asks for about $75 million.

The suit says the farmers and ranchers lost crops and livestock and had to pay to haul clean water because the spill kept them from using the polluted rivers.

The EPA referred questions to Department of Justice officials, who did not immediately return a phone call.
Other defendants include eight companies and subsidiaries that were involved in mining in the area or worked for the EPA.

An EPA-led contractor crew was doing excavation work at the entrance to the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado in August 2015 when it accidentally breached a debris pile that was holding back wastewater inside the mine.
An estimated 3 million gallons (11.4 million liters) of wastewater poured out, carrying nearly 540 tons (490 metric tons) of metals, mostly iron and aluminum.

U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson consolidated the new lawsuit with four others filed previously by the Navajo Nation, the states of New Mexico and Utah and about a dozen New Mexico residents. Those suits seek a total of $2.3 billion.

The EPA asked the judge last month to dismiss the suits. The agency said the court doesn’t need to intervene because crews are already working on the cleanup.

The judge hasn’t ruled on the request.

Gay, Native American Democrat busts candidate mold in Kansas

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By THOMAS BEAUMONT and JOHN HANNA, Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democrat Sharice Davids of Kansas added her name Wednesday to her party’s increasingly diverse slate of candidates advancing to the November ballot.

Davids, who would be the first gay, Native American elected to Congress, narrowly won a six-way primary in her eastern Kansas district, shattering the mold for a congressional primary winner in conservative Kansas and embodying the range of ethnicities and sexual orientations of Democratic candidates running throughout the country this fall.

Notably, the 38-year-old lawyer and activist from Kansas City, Kansas, is among a wave of gay, bisexual and transgender candidates running — the vast majority as Democrats — including at the top of the ballot in key states.
“Voters in the third congressional district have sent a clear message to the nation: Fairness and tolerance are Kansas values,” said Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, a LGBT advocacy organization.

Roughly 200 LGBT candidates are expected to be on the November ballot across the country for state and federal office, the most ever, according to Sean Meloy, senior political director of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a non-partisan political advocacy group. They include national figures such as Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the nation’s first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate, as well as Arizona Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema, who is bisexual, and Jared Polis of Colorado, who could become the first openly gay man elected governor in the U.S.

Davids also is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, a Native American tribe in Wisconsin, but is not alone among Native American women running for prominent political office this year.

Democrat Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe, won the June primary for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, a Democratic-leaning district that includes the Albuquerque area.

There’s also Democrat Paulette Jordan of Idaho. A member of the Couer d’Alene Tribe, Jordan won the June primary for Idaho governor, but faces an uphill battle in the Republican-heavy state to become the first Native American governor.

In Michigan on Tuesday, state Rep. Rashida Tlaib won the Democratic primary in the state’s 13th Congressional District. With no Republican opponent on the November ballot, she’s poised to become the nation’s first Muslim woman elected to Congress.

In Kansas, Davids will face four-term Republican Kevin Yoder in the 3rd Congressional District, a Republican-leaning swath of urban and suburban eastern Kansas.

In their effort to claim seats in competitive districts now represented by Republicans, Democrats are targeting Yoder’s, where Democrat Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016 while losing the state overall to Republican Donald Trump. Democrats must gain 23 seats to claim the House majority.

Davids was overshadowed nationally by labor lawyer Brent Welder, whom Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed and campaigned for last month. Preliminary totals showed Davids edging Welder in the crowded field by 2,088 votes out of 61,321 cast.

“We were excited to talk with her, to fight for her, as others got national attention,” LGBTQ Victory’s Meloy said.
Though Davids represents a new generation of diverse candidates, the district she’s running to represent has little ethnic diversity. Johnson County, the district’s most populous, is 87 percent white.

Davids is a Cornell University law school graduate who worked as a lawyer for an Indian reservation in South Dakota before working as a White House fellow during Barack Obama’s presidency.

She also is a mixed martial arts fighter who introduced herself to voters with a video showing her in the ring, landing solid kicks to a large punching bag.

“You told me you needed someone who lives your struggles,” she wrote in an early Wednesday fundraising email to supporters that began with, “We did it!”

Davids was backed by abortion-rights advocacy group EMILY’s List, has called for treating gun violence as a public health crisis and has criticized tax cuts enacted by Trump.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, quickly tagged Davids as an “extreme” liberal and predicted she would vote in lockstep with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
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Kayenta man sentenced for manslaughter conviction

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PHOENIX (AP) — A Kayenta man has been sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison for his involuntary manslaughter conviction for being impaired while driving during a 2017 rollover crash that killed his passenger.

Ethan Barlow, 27, was sentenced Wednesday. The death occurred on the Navajo Reservation. The victim’s name wasn’t listed in court records.

Barlow had pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in April and acknowledged that he had been drinking rum and smoking marijuana before the crash.

The conviction carried a maximum sentence of eight years in prison.

New Mexico woman gets prison term in fatal 2017 car crash

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A Mariano Lake woman who pleaded guilty in federal court in Albuquerque to an involuntary manslaughter charge has been sentenced to 34 months in prison.

Prosecutors say Allen also was sentenced Wednesday to three years of supervised release after she completes her prison term.

The 33-year-old Allen was arrested in October 2017 on a criminal complaint charging her with killing a man a month earlier on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico’s McKinley County.

Prosecutors say Allen lost control of her vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol and the car rolled, killing a male passenger.

Allen subsequently was indicted and charged with involuntary manslaughter.

She pleaded guilty three months ago.

Navajo robotics team heads to international competition

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This March 3, 2018 photo provided by Heather Anderson shows from left, Navajo Mountain High School students Nahida Smith and Cuay Bitsinnie compete in a Utah regional robotics competition in West Valley City, Utah. The team from a remote town in southern Utah is now headed to an international robotics competition Aug. 14 in Mexico City, Mexico. They were invited to compete in the First Global Challenge, which will draw teams from 190 countries to create robots capable of feeding power plants and building environmentally efficient transmission networks. (Heather Anderson via AP)

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A team of Navajo high school students from a remote town in southern Utah is building a robot to represent North America in an international robotics competition.

The teenagers have worked all summer on the project, scheduling meetings between long drives to jobs far from the red rock and sage country of Navajo Mountain, where there is little paid work, said teacher Heather Anderson.

The team was specially invited to compete in the First Global Challenge that starts Aug. 14 in Mexico City. Teams from more than 190 countries will create robots for energy generation, especially renewable power. Teams hail from countries ranging from Congo to Ukraine, and also include separate teams representing specifically the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Team Naatsis’aan, a Navajo name that translates to Navajo Mountain, has been competing for two years in Utah and ranks among the best in the state at that level, said Chelsey Short, the regional director for FIRST Robotics. They got started after an Australian team reached out online and supportive coaches kept it going, but sustaining the program at a high school with a total of 30 students has been challenging.

“It’s not like they had those technical skills, they decided they wanted to start a team and just kind of went for it, and they found mentors along the way,” Short said.

Even getting food for team meetings can be a challenge, since the nearest restaurants and grocery stores are 90 minutes away from the Navajo Mountain community, where a number of homes don’t have running water, Anderson said. When they ran out of specialized screws, they had to wait two weeks to receive more in the mail.

“It was frustrating because of the time it wasted before Mexico,” said team member Breana Bitsinnie, 18. They worked around it by focusing on other tasks while they were waiting.

Team member Jason Slender, 16, said he grew up repairing laptops and phones, skills that came in handy when it comes to building robots. “The best part was brainstorming how we should design the robot, and managing to all agree on one,” he said Tuesday. He’s taking his first plane ride for the event.

Each of the teams heading to Mexico City is building a robot capable of feeding power plants to scale and an efficient transmission network. The Navajo team will have to work in alliances with other teams to score points in the challenge organized by the robotics nonprofit First Global. Since they speak different languages, they’ll use a system of hand gestures to communicate, Bitsinnie said.

The team from the Navajo Nation got a kit of supplies to build their robots in early June, and they’re programming the machines to perform tasks like moving boxes to specific spots on a playing field and turning a windmill, Anderson said.
For the students, the experience has sparked an interest in computer and programming careers.

“The kids are really patient. They’re used to jumping through a lot of different hoops,” Anderson said. “That’s what’s really special about this team; they’re really proud of their work.”

Auto group accused of deceptive practices to sell to Navajos

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By FELICIA FONSECA, Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The Federal Trade Commission is accusing an auto group in the U.S. Southwest of using deceptive and unlawful practices to sell vehicles to Navajos.

The complaint against Tate’s Auto Group, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Arizona, says the company falsified consumers’ monthly income and down payments on financing applications and contracts without them knowing. The complaint also says the company used deceptive advertising.

It’s part of a push by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission to protect Navajo consumers. The commission has been collecting information from tribal members about business practices in towns that border the reservation, which spans Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. It issued a report in 2014 that showed more complaints were received about Tate’s than other auto dealerships.

“The representation from the auto dealer is that ‘we’re helping your Navajo people,’ ” Leonard Gorman, executive director of the commission, said Thursday. “The reality is you’re cheating our Navajo people.”

Tate’s Auto Group has dealerships in Show Low, Winslow and Holbrook, Arizona; and in Gallup, New Mexico. Owner Richard Berry said he was stunned by the complaint and rejected a settlement offer from the FTC earlier this year.

The company has safeguards in place to ensure it sells and services customers honestly and to the best of its ability, he said. “We are confident that we will be vindicated and appreciate the continued support of our community, staff and customers,” Berry wrote in a statement.

Fraud reviews from third-party financing companies found that Tate’s inflated customers’ monthly incomes by hundreds or thousands of dollars, according to the complaint. One of those companies stopped doing business with Tate’s in January 2016 after suffering financial losses when customers defaulted on loans or their vehicles had to be repossessed, the complaint states.

Tate’s also misrepresented offers for vehicles and the terms to buy or lease them, the FTC says.

The commission is seeking relief that includes restitution and refunds to customers.

In another consumer protection case in federal court in New Mexico, a Navajo couple reached a $1 million settlement in a lawsuit against a Gallup, New Mexico, business that offered loans tied to tax returns. William and Sammia DeJolie had alleged that T&R businesses charged secret fees and hid true interest rates. The couple asked a judge this week to determine whether the settlement is fair and certify a group of about 14,950 people who could benefit from it.

Gorman said the dynamics of free enterprise in Western society often don’t fit in with Navajo culture. Words are significant and important, taken at face value, he said. And on a reservation where banks are sparse and no car dealerships exist, extra time must be taken to ensure customers who often travel long distances — particularly limited English speakers — understand, he said.

Customers also have a responsibility, Gorman said. The commission has been educating Navajos about credit and financing. Navajos should assess their personal finances before heading to a car lot and be ready to say no and walk away if they don’t like or understand the terms, he said.

They also should review agreements with the same diligence as purchasing livestock, something Navajo families have done for generations as part of a traditional lifestyle, Gorman said.

“When grandma purchases a sheep, she takes the time to assess the condition of that sheep,” he said. “She’ll look at the teeth, she’ll massage the chest area of the sheep and grandma will make the decision. Is the sheep too old, too skinny?”
The FTC complaint highlights a need for economic development on the reservation where tribal laws cap interest rates at below those of neighboring states, ensuring fairness for the business and consumer, Gorman said.

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