BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS PROPOSES RATE INCREASE:
The Bureau of Indian Affairs has submitted a proposed increase to the Operating and Maintenance Tax Assessment for all districts of the Flathead Irrigation Project in the amount $7.50 per acre for every fee-land irrigator.
No reason has been given for the increase, and the BIA has so far refused to provide any accounting for why the additional funding is necessary. For this reason and others, the Flathead Joint Board of Control voted against the proposed rate increase earlier this week.
A comment period is now in effect and concerned citizens and irrigators can offer input to the Federal Government regarding this matter. See the official notification, along with a list of questions and answers concerning the process for commenting here: Federal Registry
IRRIGATOR COMMENT LETTER
The comment letter below was written by Roy and Sheila Vallejo of St. Ignatius, MT, along with several others concerning this rate increase. They are hoping that you would like to add your name to their letter which will be submitted by the pending deadline. Details on how to get your name added to the letter can be found below.
July 23, 2015
Julan Jin, Chief
Division of Water and Power
Office of Trust Services,
Mail Stop 4637-MIB,
1849 C Street NW
Washington DC 20240
RE Flathead Indian Irrigation Project (Aka FIIP, FIP, FIPP, Project) Proposed Rate Increase
The BIA has filed in the Federal Register for an increase on Operation and Maintenance (O&M) to be imposed upon Flathead Joint Board of Control (FJBC) irrigators. By law, BIA federal, state and tribal governments cannot assess irrigation districts. Only the irrigation districts have the power to assess themselves. (1948 Repayment Contract)
In requesting additional funds for the O &M there is no accountability as to when, why, where, and how the assessed money will be spent. We require a budgeted cost breakdown by department. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) requires a budgeted cost breakdown by department when considering bids. Why should we accept less information than the U.S. government requires.
BIA has shown a high level of disregard to the FJBC and its irrigators by refusing to present in-depth budget reports for the last two years when requested by the FJBC. Reports that were furnished were of a general nature. BIA has not shown or produced records of personnel, how many employees, staff, etc. We do know that 107 years of non-tribal workforce experience was replaced with minimally experienced tribal preferential hired and re-hired employees who received a substantial wage increase.
BIA terminated experienced, established workers who were not tribal or who disagreed with the CSKT Compact. These non-tribal men together had 107 years of in irrigation project experience among them. They held responsible positions. This is an act of discrimination that would not be tolerated anyplace in America by any other corporation or company. The by-product of their questionable hiring practices has been significant staff turnover. Staffing is now short five to eight employees causing further hardship on the remaining staff as well as project irrigators.
From 2010 to 2014 the project operations under the FJBC cleaned and re-shaped 900 canal miles, sprayed over 1,000 canal miles, crews replaced hundreds of structures, 65 truckloads of saw-logs were removed from 26 miles of canal. Most of the saw logs were returned to the owners, predominantly tribal members. Fifty miles of canal were cleaned of brush, trees and logs.
The BIA repaired 150 yards or 450 feet in Camas District at a cost of $100,000. The repairs were inadequate and failed, and the area continues leaking worse than before. This is the driest year since 1910. The BIA did not capture 6 weeks of runoff water. Water should have been captured by March 15, 2015. Capture did not start until April 15th, 2015. Pumps were not started until June 15th, 2015. The pumps should have been started by the middle of April. One pump was not working until July 2, 2015. The BIA employees had all winter to work and repair the 3rd pump for this irrigation season. This is why we are requesting the return of the project operation to the irrigators as was agreed upon in the 1948 payback contract.
Where former Project employees worked and made repairs during winter months, the current BIA employees did not accomplish any significant maintenance or repairs during this recent Winter.
This is a clear case of mismanagement that would not be tolerated by other corporations or companies. Within the BIA and CSKT tribal corporation systems, instances such as these are tolerated and accepted, to the direct harm of irrigators, tribal and non-tribal.
In mid-2014, the Cooperative Management Entity (CME) had $ 3 – $5 million in Eagle Bank, Polson, Montana. We are informed that the accounts were closed and the monies were moved to the federal treasury as of June, 2015. These funds were set aside for the purpose of operation and maintenance of the FIP and fisheries. Is it any wonder that we do not agree to an increase O & M fees? The BIA has shown disregard for the FJBC, the people who supply the monies, and the laws. Please do not give more of our money to a mismanaged, unaccountable entity, further financially burdening irrigators with additional O & M rate and fee increases. We work hard for our money. Our incomes are being adversely affected by pre-implementation of a non-ratified CSKT Compact being imposed on irrigators.
The BIA has shown itself to be incompetent at minimum. No further costs to irrigators should occur until the BIA is willing to do such minimal considerations as:
1) Return phone calls to the FJBC staff and Board;
2) Meet face-to-face with FJBC Board and staff;
3) Produce specific budget reports that provide a transparent and satisfactory document(s) of their operations
4) Stop unfair and inadequate hiring, operation and maintenance practices.
The BIA agency currently operating the Flathead Irrigation Project has not earned and should not be arbitrarily granted additional funds burdensome to every irrigator until communication and completions of urgently needed maintenance projects have been accomplished to the satisfaction of irrigators paying for this service.
CALL TO ACTION: ADD YOUR NAME TO THE LETTER OR SEND YOUR OWN COMMENTS
We would like to put out the call to all irrigators and other interested / concerned parties to either submit your own comments, or request to be added to the letter above.
To add your name to the letter, contact Sheila Vallejo at 745-4250 or Carol Lyons at 544-6721. The deadline for getting your name added to the letter is AUGUST 1, 2015. You can also email Shelia, giving her your permission to be added to the letter at email@example.com.
If you prefer to send in your own written comments (no email allowed), all comments on the proposed rate adjustment must be in writing and submitted on or before August 10, 2015, addressed to:
Chief, Division of Water and Power
Office of Trust Services
Mail Stop 4637-MIB
1849 C. Street NW.,
Washington D.C. 20240
Telephone (202) 219-0941
Keep in mind that the BIA took over operations of the project through a hostile takeover last year, which is the subject of an active lawsuit, frequently called the Turnover Suit.
To date the federal government has been using delay tactics on this suit, no doubt because they are awaiting the outcome of the water compact. Their likely thinking is that if the water compact succeeds in giving all of the project water to the tribe, then management of the project is likely a moot point, after all, the tribe has been trying to gain control of the project for decades and if they get all the water, shouldn’t they be able to manage it too?
In other words, the water compact must be killed, and short of that litigation is the only answer. No ifs, ands or buts. The citizens of western Montana must resolve ourselves to do whatever is necessary to take this battle all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.