Moapa Paiute leader says tribe to expand solar on new land

WASHINGTON — The leader of the Moapa Band of Paiutes told Congress on Wednesday that adding land to the tribe’s Southern Nevada reservation would allow it to expand further into solar energy while encouraging young people to stay close to home.

Tribal Chairwoman Aletha Tom said a bill that would put another 26,565 acres in trust would restore a small part of what once was a 2 million-acre reservation that Congress took away almost 140 years ago under pressure from miners and settlers. About 70,000 acres were restored in 1980.

“Not only would this bill help rectify past injustices, but it also gives in a very practical way, hope to our people in the future,” Tom told members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., received a thumbs up from the Obama administration. Michael Black, director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said it endorsed the legislation as long as it can be amended to ensure the transfer does not disturb an energy transmission corridor and the historical Old Spanish Trail that cross portions of the new tribal property.

“I don’t think anything is a major issue,” he said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he was hopeful the panel could vote on the bill by the end of the month, along with a second tribal bill reviewed Wednesday that would expand seven reservations in Northern Nevada.

The bill faces questions, however, from Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who might want further changes.

Spokesman Neal Patel said Heller “has heard from parties that would be affected by the legislation. There remains concerns surrounding what new management over the lands would mean for various entities ranging from utilities to local government entities.”

The Reid legislation would allow the Paiutes the land for free as long as it’s used for renewable energy, housing, recreation or “traditional and customary uses.”

Gaming would be forbidden, although Tom said the tribe had no problem with that.

The 329-member Paiute band has sought to make a mark in solar. The tribe is moving forward on a 200 megawatt photo-voltaic array with backing from NV Energy. It also broke ground in March on a 250- megawatt solar plant that will sell electricity to Los Angeles. Tom told the Senate the tribe also has a third project under development.

“Solar energy would benefit both the tribe and the greater community, and would increase the tribe’s stake in the prosperity of the region,” Tom said.

The new land would be in four segments adjacent to the reservation 30 miles north of Las Vegas. About 7,500 acres are near where most tribal members live, and would be used to build housing as a way to give young people the chance to stay home rather than move away, Tom said.

Another 11,500 acres are near the tribal-run truck stop along Interstate 15 and the exit to the Valley of Fire State Park.

A third portion north of the reservation “would be preserved for cultural purposes,” she said, while the remaining lands would be eyed for future renewable energy projects.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at STetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.