Dec 08 2016
Washington, D.C. – Today, the United States Senate delivered final passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (NDAA), legislation championed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ). The legislation includes additional priorities for the state of Arizona, including provisions that support wildfire management and water conservation; address flight path changes at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport; and transfer Fort Wingate to the Navajo Nation. Senators McCain and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) released the following statements on these provisions:
WILDFIRE MANAGEMENT AT CAMP NAVAJO
The legislation includes a provision aimed at enabling forest thinning activities using Camp Navajo, an Arizona National Guard facility located near Flagstaff, Arizona. Specially, the provision would effectively transfer federal land under Camp Navajo from the Forest Service to the Department of Defense, which would help streamline an Arizona National Guard program to lease portions of the facility as an industrial park. Currently, the land is technically owned by the Forest Service but its uses are largely limited to military functions under the 1940’s Public Land Order issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that originally established the depot. The provision will save the National Guard from any claims of triggering a “reversionary interest” right through non-military use activity, which would return Camp Navajo to full Forest Service jurisdiction.
Camp Navajo is strategically located near the interchange of Interstate 40 and Interstate 17, and supports many miles of railroad tracks that connect the facility to much of northern and eastern Arizona. Northern Arizona University Ecological Restoration Institute has identified Camp Navajo as a promising host of a “world-class center” for public-private industry partnerships establishing a timber mill, biomass plant, or wood products research facility.
“Catastrophic wildfire continues to be one of the top environmental challenges for Arizona in the 21st century,” said Chairman McCain. “This provision will help unlock Camp Navajo’s business potential, particularly as it relates to enhancing industry’s role in thinning our overgrown forests and reducing the threat of wildfire. I applaud the Forest Service, notably the leadership team at Kaibab National Forest, and the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, for working together to develop and advance this project.”
“We must use every resource at our disposal to prevent devastating wildfires. Forest thinning efforts help restore Arizona’s forests, reduce the risk of out-of-control wildfires, and protect rural communities,” said Senator Flake.
“Restoring forest health requires the removal and processing of massive amounts of small trees and biomass,” said Dr. Wally Covington, executive director of Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute. “Creating a place that can use this biomass would improve forest health and reduce the amount of smoke from forest restoration activities. Since 1996 the private sector has indicated interest in locating a processing facility at Camp Navajo. This action can help make this a reality.”
Roughly 300,000 acres of national forest land in Arizona are slated to be ecologically restored using industry partners, according to the Forest Service’s Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI).
SAN PEDRO RIVER WATER CONSERVATION
The NDAA also includes a provision that would provide federal recognition of the Cochise Conservation Recharge Network (CCRN), a project by the City of Sierra Vista, Arizona, and Cochise County that will harvest tens of thousands of gallons of rainwater every year and use it to recharge nearby underground aquifers that support flows in the San Pedro River. Today, the San Pedro River, one of the last free-flowing rivers of the southwest, is threatened by drought and excessive groundwater pumping. The NDAA provision would authorize the Secretary of the Army or the Secretary of the Interior to enter into agreements in support of the CCRN project.
“The San Pedro River is a precious desert gem,” said Chairman McCain. “I applaud the city and county for developing the Cochise recharge project, and I hope this federal recognition will help preserve the San Pedro for the enjoyment of future generations.”
“Water conservation is a top priority in Arizona and it is crucial that we continue to develop solutions that will give drought-stricken states the tools to tackle this issue,” said Senator Flake.
FLIGHT PATH CHANGES AT PHOENIX SKY HARBOR INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
In addition, the NDAA includes a provision that would require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to review flight path changes like those in Phoenix and take steps to mitigate the negative effects these changes have had on the community. It would also ensure that other airports and communities have the opportunity to fully engage with the FAA before any future changes are made.
“This legislation provides an important step forward in making sure Phoenix residents impacted by flight path changes at Sky Harbor International Airport have the opportunity to make their voices heard,” said Chairman McCain. “This legislation would require the FAA to mitigate the negative effects of flight path changes that have already been implemented, while providing impacted communities and airports a seat at the table before any future changes are made.”
“I am pleased this bill includes measures to address complaints of Arizonans who have been negatively impacted by the flight path changes at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The provisions we were able to add establish a process to address those hardships and ensure the FAA will better consult with affected communities on future flight changes,” said Senator Flake.
FORT WINGATE LAND TRANSFER
The NDAA transfers Fort Wingate, a decommissioned Army depot located near Gallup, New Mexico, to the Navajo Nation. For decades, the Navajo government has been seeking to restore its jurisdiction over the fort, which has long been managed by the federal government. In the 1990’s the Fort was closed during the Base Realignment and Closure Process.