The Northeastern Arizona Sustainability Consortium is an initiative with seemingly noble objectives. Several tribes, towns, corporations and institutions initially formed part of the initiative.
Towns: Eagar, Snowflake, Springerville, St. Johns, Taylor and Winslow.
Tribes: White Mountain Apache, Navajo and the Hopi.
Objectives of the consortium
The provision of more and better transportation choices including the development of reliable and safe transportation choices to reduce energy consumption and household transportation costs, improve air quality, reduce dependence on foreign oil, promote public health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Promote affordable and equitable housing by expanding energy efficient and location efficient accommodation in order to increase mobility and lower the cost of housing and transportation.
Improving economic competitiveness
This is to be achieved by enhancing economic competitiveness by improving access to educational opportunities, employment centres and similar services to employees and also by improving business access to markets.
Leverage investment and coordinate policies by enhancing the unique characteristics of communities through investing in safe and healthy neighbourhoods.
Support existing communities by targeting federal funding towards projects that revitalise existing communities and improving the efficiency of public works programmes.
Controversy surrounding the consortium
Despite the consortium’s lofty objectives, it has met with increasing controversy recently, so much so that certain of the original members, including the town council of Eager, have refused to sign a contract with it. A degree of opposition has built up against the programme and consequently Navajo County and the majority of the cities and towns there have also decided to drop out.
Even after dropping out of the consortium several months ago the issue once more appeared on the agenda in early January at the council meeting of Eagar Town Council. The problem is an $820,000 grant for the development of a regional sustainability plan that was received by Apache County. This was originally intended to cover two counties, nine towns and three Native American tribes.
Karen Mackean is from Navajo County. She is also vice president of a group calling themselves White Mountain Conservatives. She said, at the town council meeting, that there were many people who wanted to know how the money from the grant was being used and whether it actually benefited local communities. According to her, a large portion of the money went to Hank Rogers, of the Economic Development of Apache County (EDAC), who administers the grant. She mentioned an amount of $200,000 in this regard. Consultant, Brian Cole, she went on to claim, was receiving a further $278,000.
Mackean also said that a further $60,000 to $80,000 could not be accounted for. That, she added, has made people ‘fed up’ with the federal government and how it was spending ordinary taxpayers’ money.
The council did not reach final decision about the issue and it is unclear, at present, what will happen in the near future.