Testimony of Tribal Chairwoman Robyn Burdette Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, Nevada
United States Senate Committee on Environment and Pubic Works
Subcommittee on Transportation, Infrastructure, and Nuclear Safety
Thank you, for the opportunity to speak on the issue of transportation in Indian Country and in Nevada.
The Summit Lake Paiute Tribe is a small geographically isolated tribe located in the extreme upper northwest portion of Nevada. Bureau of Land Management and Sheldon U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge surround the reservation, in addition to the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Natural Area. The main road system on the reservation consists primarily of two BIA routes, which link to three county routes. The majority of the land adjacent to the reservation is generally used for activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking and camping. This area is a very high use recreational area. The Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area Act of 2000 gives national conservation area and wilderness designation to nearly 1.2 million acres of public lands in the vicinity and adjacent to the reservation.
In 1999, I was chosen to sit on the Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-First Century Negotiated Rulemaking Committee for the Indian Reservation Roads Program. My tribe is part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Western Region located in Phoenix, Arizona with 54 other tribes from Utah, Nevada and Arizona. In Nevada there are 29 individual tribes, each responsible to provide for the self-governance and safety of their communities. Well-constructed and maintained roads are essential for economic development of Indian communities, as businesses cannot occur without roads to provide access for customers and supplies. Well-maintained roads are essential for public safety of the local citizens and people traveling through the area. Indian children must travel -- often for great distances -- on Indian roads. Police and medical vehicles rely upon good roads to provide public safety and emergency medical services. Roads have been placed in the top ten budget priorities for the past two fiscal years by the BIA Western Region Tribes.
Road Maintenance - The maintenance account for the BIA WRO provides funds to tribal governments to maintain roads and bridges on Indian lands. The current level of funding provides approximately one-fifth of the total of funds needed. The budget would have to be quadrupled to provide adequate level of funding. As an example - the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe gets $3,300.00 for road maintenance. With extreme snow conditions and heavy equipment costs this provides a fraction of the cost necessary to maintain our roads on a full time basis. A snow cat costs $70,000.00. The tribe operates its maintenance program with a 1950 Huber grader which breaks down on a regular basis, parts, if found, cost between $1,000.00 - $2,000.00. A replacement grader would be $100,000.00. The road maintenance program is not in the IRR program, however, to build new roads with inadequate maintenance, creates a loss in capital improvement, and additional loss of precious dollars. The refuge roads program makes an
allowance for maintenance costs, perhaps, and I say this cautiously, the IRR program should be evaluated to allow for an increase in funding for Road Operation &Maintenance. The BIA O & M corresponding budget should be targeted for an increase.
The rulemaking committee for IRR was established to provide procedures and a relative need allocation formula. The committee was comprised of small, medium and large tribes across the nation, many with no prior experience and some with many years of experience and expertise in transportation.
This was the first time nationally that the tribes saw and participated in the development of a relative needs formula. The committee meetings provided an educational overview into the Indian Reservation Roads program that some of us have never had. The tribal representatives held true to their task of participating in the IRR Negotiated Rulemaking Committee on a government-to-government basis in recognition of Indian self-governance and self-determination. Although a monumental task, procedures and the development of a single formula, based on the inadequate funding allocated to the IRR program, was completed. What has yet to be demonstrated, but may be possible, is that problems in getting a project may not be entirely due to funding but the process of getting the funding/project.
Some of the inequities found within the IRR program for tribes are:
-- lack of adequate funding
-- concern that too many programs are being placed within the Indian Reservation Roads Construction Program like:
Ø Indian Reservation Roads Bridge Program
Ø Obligation Limitation
Ø 6% BIA takedown
The relative needs formula is based upon the total population; vehicle miles traveled, and cost to improve. Considering these factors, the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe is currently at a disadvantage because of poor qualifiers in the relative needs formula including a low population, low average daily traffic, and lack of transportation planning reports (identifying cost to improve estimates, roadway inventories, ADT, etc). As a result, funding for the tribe based on the relative need formula has proven inadequate, especially for routine maintenance, and improvement of the reservation roadway system. The Summit Lake Paiute Tribe has historically received no funding for road construction.
The proposed relative needs formula includes a capacity base funding and a high priority funding category, however, funding is based on population, this seems to create a pool where low population tribes only receive insufficient funding to operate a transportation program. It also creates a pool whereby the BIA can take from to supply funding for a "construction project" that may not be yours. Funding should be allocated based on the entire project to its completion.
The proposed high priority projects, well intended to address funding for tribes that have never received funding for a construction project, will likely struggle to receive a approved construction project due to the poor qualifiers mentioned above. The inclusion of the emergency/disaster projects will further exclude a tribe from meeting transportation needs. Because of insufficient funding the Bureau of Indian Affairs currently prioritizes IRR funds to build roads with respect to those tribes who the BIA qualifies as having unsafe roads or bridges.
The Summit Lake Tribe has generated a relative needs share between $19,000.00 to $30,000.00 per year and has only twice received funding through 2% planning not through its relative needs portion.
In 1999, the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe's roadway system was flooded; all access was stopped. Many travelers were stranded or attempted to circumnavigate the flooded section, (which was the sole access from north to south), and began to cut new roadways into the surrounding areas, many of which consist of wetland habitat. This situation results in extreme environmental degradation and safety concerns. When the tribe sought assistance through the Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads program, bureaucratic red tape and process stifled the tribe. For two years the effects of this flood impacted the tribe and the economy of the area. What was the bureaucratic red tape? The requirement to apply through the Bureau of Indian Affairs instead of the Federal Lands Office which administers ERFO funding.
Many reservations share this same story, it is common to have roads that are well beneath ground level or consist of narrow pavements with no shoulders or inadequate signage with sharp narrow passages or curves.
When the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe generates a relative needs fund totaling $19,000.00 - $30,000.00 per year and it is estimated that $1,781,635.00 is needed to rebuild existing roads, not including future roads, the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe will always remain at the bottom end of the priority list. When competing for funding at the national level for a construction project against
tribes, who are in the same category, funding will remain unlikely with the poor qualifiers of low population, ADT, and cost to construct.
Tribes in Nevada receive little or no support from the BIA WRO and have requested many meetings to obtain information regarding assistance. Unfortunately, due to distance - we are geographically crippled from obtaining the training and technical assistance necessary for consideration under the IRR program. To get on the WRO TIP, a tribe must request BIA to approve funding for the tribal project. This process is passed over for the majority of tribes due to limited funding and the lack of technical assistance from the Western Region Office.
What are the effects on a national level? Several Tribes in Nevada have major highways traveling through their reservation. The Duck Valley Shoshone-Paiute Tribe may have nuclear receptacles traveling through their area on the very same roads numerous accidents occur. Tribes who do not have emergency response preparedness and have unsafe road conditions will be ill equipped to handle the proposed nuclear transportation.
Tribes in Nevada are capable of partnering with the State of Nevada to address transportation issues, however, there are distinct differences with Tribes. Not only is there a jurisdictional considerations but the fact that many tribes need to participate fully in research programs like safety and transit. Accesses to funds are dependent upon the inventory of tribes; it is critical that tribes are able to provide the State agencies accurate inventory information. Again, we cross the path of needing those base/planning dollars in order to report and compile the correct information.
The Tribal Technical Assistance Program serving Nevada Tribes is also critical to meeting the transportation need, however, this program has been non-existent for several years. Just recently, a provider has been selected in California where conditions are very different than those in Nevada. In addition, this displaces us from the other Tribes in the WRO office and further complicates matters when trying to pull together information and resources.
Suggestions to improve -- Provide for equal partnership with tribes. Implement the procedures developed by the Negotiated Rulemaking committee and provide full funding for the IRR program. Remove the obligation limitation from the IRR program. Adjust the takedowns, the BIA 6% and re-evaluate the funding formula.
Although tribes have to agree on a single formula, there are areas for improvement. Population based formula do not work for anyone. The high priority programs can work if revolved around meeting the need of those tribes who do not get enough funds to construct a project in a set period of time but not if all tribes can access funds due to safety. The majority of Indian roads provide a safety risk.
Finally, tribal roads are given inequitable attention; we are overlooked because we lack the capacity and knowledge to manage our program, not because we can't but because we are not allowed to. Given the resources, and by partnering, we can provide for safe accessible transportation system and contribute to the local economy. Thank you.