GCPBA River News 2/23/2020 – Docks Proposed By The Navajo Nation

Greetings to all of you.  We have a report for you regarding new docks proposed by the Navajo Nation.

Martin Begaye, Department Director at Navajo Parks and Recreation, Window Rock, Arizona, applied for a permit with the Army Corps of Engineers to construct a dock on the south shore of the Colorado River, approximately 5 miles upstream of Navajo bridge, near River Mile 1-2.

We’re all familiar with the Hualapai docks at the Quartermaster area and the attendant swarm of helicopter traffic.  As such, the Board has contacted the Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District and received copies of the application and the permit through a FOIA filing.   The documents are here:

Navajo Docks Application

Navajo Docks Letter of Permission

Here is an excerpt from the Navajo’s letter requesting a permit:

“…..The Navajo Nation intends to initiate boat patrols from the Navajo Nation side of the Colorado River from Lee's Ferry to the (Little Colorado River) Confluence by the appropriate Navajo Nation law enforcement and regulatory Departments, including the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department, Navajo Resource Enforcement Department (Rangers}, the Navajo Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Navajo Nation Heritage and Historic Preservation Department. The Navajo Nation is extremely concerned that the commercial and private river trips on the Colorado River trespass into cultural and sacred sites, infringe on wildlife habitats and endangered species areas, as well as unpermitted and unauthorized hikers and campers intrude onto Navajo Reservation lands causing damage to fragile rock formations with graffiti and other acts of vandalism. …….”

However, in completing the Army Corps’ form, the Navajo have added recreational use as a project purpose:

“9. Project Purpose (Describe the reason or purpose of the project, see instructions)
To provide access to Colorado River for governmental and recreational use and/or activities including but not limited to; Navajo Nation Fish & Wildlife, Navajo Historic Preservation Dept., Navajo Rangers, Navajo Parks and Recreation, Navajo EMS, etc., to protect tribal cultural resources. The recreational use would include but not limited to rafting, guided tours, boating, kayaking, fishing, hiking, etc.”

Here is some background info:

Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 prohibits the obstruction or alteration of navigable waters of the United States without a permit from the Corps of Engineers.  The Los Angeles District is one of the districts in the Corps’ South Pacific Division and has jurisdiction over a large area that includes the entire state of Arizona.

The Corps issued a Letter of Permission (LOP).  Per Corps guidelines:   “A Letter of Permission (LOP) is a type of individual permit issued through an abbreviated processing procedure which includes coordination with Federal and state fish and wildlife agencies, and a public interest evaluation, but without the publishing of an individual public notice………LOPs may be used ……..when the Corps has determined the proposed work would be minor, would not have significant individual or cumulative impacts on environmental values, and should encounter no appreciable oppositionExamples of activities that may qualify for a Section 10 LOP include: fixed or floating small private boat docks, private piers, maintenance dredging using existing disposal sites, etc….”   (The underlining is the GCPBA Board’s.)

The Board finds that issuance of a LOP is inappropriate because there is and will be appreciable opposition.

One of the permit’s special condition states that “The permittee understands and agrees that this LOP is only valid if the property on which the dock is connected is owned by the applicant or that legal rights to the activity have been secured in an agreement with the landowner.”

The legal findings that the Navajo/Park boundary is ¼ mile east of the southern shore is ground that has been thoroughly plowed over the past decades.  This boundary has been affirmed by the Department of Interior Solicitor General in a June 16, 1969, Memorandum entitled, “Location of the Boundary between the Navajo Indian Reservation and Marble Canyon National Monument, Arizona.”   Additionally, the Bureau of Land Management conducted its own review and stated in a November 29, 1991, letter that “the west boundary of the Navajo Indian Reservation is one quarter mile east of the Colorado River.”  Although the document itself was not located, there is a 2003 reference to the DOI solicitor general’s Santa Fe office concurring with the 1969 finding.

The Navajo claim the boundary to be at the river’s shore, and so the decades long boundary dispute continues.   The Board’s information to date indicates that the Corps did not confer with the Department of Interior and the Park when they issued the LOP.  Per the above mentioned special condition – it is not clear that the Navajo can demonstrate that they have a legal right to the shore line.

The Navajo’s letter prompts a number of questions.  Why would the Navajo Nation fund a river patrol if the Park performs this function with their reinstituted river patrols?   How would the patrols get back to Lees Ferry?  Would they go downriver to a takeout at Diamond or Pearce?  Why hasn’t the Navajo Nation documented and shown evidence of the alleged violations and informed the commercial and private boating community?  As the Navajo stated, one of the project purpose is to conduct rafting and guided tours, which would be counter to the 2006 Colorado River Management Plan.

The GCPBA Board is not waiting to see if the Navajo Nation pursues their proposal.  We have petitioned the Army Corps of Engineers to rescind their LOP.  We’ll keep you informed.

Best regards,
Richard Harter
GCPBA President

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