The county maintained roads on the reservation for decades, but never had a formal agreement with the Navajo Nation giving them the legal authority to do so. Citing federal regulations, the Navajo Department of Transportation asked San Juan County to stop maintaining the roads in April 2018, according to county records.

Kate Groetzinger

KUER

On Navajo Nation, Bad Roads Lead To Blame For Poor Upkeep

SAN JUAN COUNTY — As winter approaches, Navajo Nation residents in Utah say roads on the reservation are increasingly hazardous because of a lack of upkeep.

And they don’t know who to blame.

The quality of roads is a constant issue on the reservation, but the situation has recently deteriorated. That’s because San Juan County stopped maintaining reservation roads in August 2018. The Navajo Department of Transportation took over, and many residents say they aren’t doing a good job.

For Navajo Nation resident Susie Philemon of McCracken Mesa, the problems start with potholes — lots of potholes — and accumulate like the feet of snow that remained unplowed last winter.

“Last year, when I was going to work during the winter time, there was snow about that deep,” she said, holding her hand up to her knee. “And I had to drive my car through that in the morning and evening, and it was really unsafe.”

The topic was the central focus of a town hall meeting this week in Blanding, where residents discussed the declining condition of roads on the reservation as well as who is responsible for their maintenance. But that could soon change, according to County Manager Mack McDonald who has spoken to officials from the Navajo Nation.

“They’ve approached the county to say, ‘Hey, county: will you take some of the roads back?’” McDonald said. “So we’ll be meeting with the Navajo Nation and their department of roads so we can discuss our road map forward.”

San Juan County has about $18 million in an account for road maintenance, which could be used on the reservation. That funding comes primarily from a fuel tax that is levied by the state and distributed to each county based on its road inventory and population. The county also receives around $200,000 a year for road maintenance from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The county maintained roads on the reservation for decades, but never had a formal agreement with the Navajo Nation giving them the legal authority to do so. Citing federal regulations, the Navajo Department of Transportation asked San Juan County to stop maintaining the roads in April 2018, according to county records.

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