News from Towaoc: A roundup

Council election

On Oct. 10, members of the Ute Mountain tribe will go to the polls in Towaoc and vote for candidates for two tribal council seats. Councilmen Ernest House and Rudy Hammond’s terms are up. Both incumbents will seek another three-year term.

Other candidates also seeking elected office are Christine Lehi, Benjamin Pavisook, John Wing Jr., Orrin Wing, Carl Knight, Melvin Hatch, and Phillip Laner Sr. Ballots will cast at the Towaoc Dining Hall from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Tribal chair

Ute Mountain Chairman Judy Knight-Frank remains on administrative leave following federal charges handed down last year that she embezzled tribal funds, falsified tax returns and lied on bank loan applications.

According to Jeff Dorschner of the U.S attorney’s office, Knight-Frank’s case is still pending and is not on the fast track because the defendants waived their right to a speedy trial.

“Complex economic crimes like this one take time; they are very paper -ntensive,” Dorschner said.

Knight-Frank’s attorneys, John Chanin and Elisa Moran, have filed dozens of motions, some requesting that the charges be dropped. Recent requests have been to subpoena two decades worth of Ute tribal records, but it was unclear whether those motions were granted. There is so far no trial date set, officials said.

Knight-Frank’s three-year term as tribal chair is up next year. Harold Cuthair is currently acting chairman for the tribe.

Water news

Asserting its sovereignty over water quality, the Ute Mountain tribe recently adopted its own clean-water standards, the tribe’s environment department reports.

Under the Clean Water Act, tribes can assert their authority over monitoring water quality on the reservation by adopting regulations that meet or exceed the national standard. The tribe has successfully done so, reports Scott Clow, a water-quality specialist. The plan, which is pending acceptance by the federal government, allows tribal officials to monitor water sources, enforce regulations, and initiate permitting with less federal intervention. The plan will be updated every three years to keep pace with the changes in the Clean Water Act.

“This allows the tribe to control their own destiny and regulate the environment as a sovereign nation,” Clow said.

Clow said surface water quality on the reservation is good overall, but that the recent drought, fires and resulting mudslides have impaired streams and left lakes very low or empty. Navajo Wash, which runs through the middle of Towaoc, was an area of concern because of high irrigation return flows.

The Mancos River, within the Tribal Park, has suffered from silt-loading after recent heavy rains, but is recovering. First Lake, Cottonwood Wash and the Towaoc Canal were all listed as high-quality water sources, as are springs used for ceremonial purposes.

Economic growth

Weminuche Construction Authority, a tribally owned firm, is involved in numerous projects, including the controversial Animas-La Plata Project near Durango. So far the company has secured $10 million worth in initial contracts for constructing the water storage project, reports General Manager Robin Halverson. She said the first excavation and dam-building phases have been done on time and within budget.

“We have a great crew of tribal members who have been very dedicated to the project,” Halverson said, adding that much of the work force is Native American and of that there is a large Ute Mountain crew.

Weminuche has put in another bid for the building of the pumping station, which is expected to be awarded soon.

The overall price tag on the federal dam and diversion project located on the banks of the Animas River was originally estimated at $350 million but that figure has grown to $500 million. Rep. Scott McInnis, a strong supporter of A-LP, has called for an investigation to determine if any laws were broken during the initial cost-assessment process, which was done by a Chicago firm hired by the tribe.

Other ongoing projects for Weminuche are the $10.5 million, four-story Ute Mountain Hotel, adjacent to the casino, and a $1.5 million elder-care center under way across from the Sunrise Youth Center. The hotel includes a 16,000-square-foot convention center, enclosed pool, exercise room and day-care facility. It will have 90 rooms, including suites with jacuzzis.

Both projects have an expected completion date of May 2004, tribal planning officials said.

The news was compiled by Jim Mimiaga.

From October 2003.