Tourism and law enforcement needs preoccupy a Colorado tribal nation
TOWAOC, Colo. – A family recreation destination and a law enforcement department are different yet compatible goals of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe as it contemplates potential uses of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
“I think, hopefully, it will bring to the tribe and the surrounding community a place where families can enjoy activities,” Pete Ortego, Ute Mountain Ute general counsel, said of the recreation destination. “We just want to make this a more attractive place for people to come.”
Colorado Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, chair of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, said the ARRA project “is an investment in the future,” noting in prepared remarks that “the infusion of additional recovery funds will strengthen not just the tribal governments, but the adjacent local economies in southwestern Colorado.”
The family fun center, as the planned destination is being called, is in the tourism-oriented Four Corners area of southwestern Colorado that borders New Mexico, Arizona and Utah near Mesa Verde National Park, a scenic region that also has unmet law enforcement needs.
In a separate development, the Department of Justice announced more than $236 million for tribes to assist public safety and law enforcement programs and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe may be among recipients, a development Ortega said would be welcome because “law enforcement here is woefully underfunded.”
For the tourism center, the tribe had requested $30 million in ARRA’s bond program, but received $22.5 million in funds allocated for tribal job creation and economic revitalization projects.
Amenities including one or more bowling alleys, restaurants, and theaters will be part of the center, which will be near an existing RV park, hotel and Ute Mountain Casino in Towaoc, Ortego said, noting that the ARRA funds cannot be used for a facility that is physically connected to a casino.
“It will be part of our resort,” he said, pointing out that existing tourism-related activities there include tours of the nearby Ute Mountain Tribal Park with its ancestral Puebloan dwellings and other cultural heritage sites. “We want to accommodate the entertainment needs of those who come to the area.”
Tax-free bonds of about $22.5 million were also awarded to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, which indicated it would use the funds for refinancing. The ARRA authorized $1 billion in bonds to be awarded to tribal nations, 56 of which were recipients. A second round of bond awards is scheduled for next year.
Ortego said federal funds to aid tribal law enforcement could be critical, assisting not only policing but an underfunded tribal court that has no public defender or guardian ad litem.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is attempting to establish a tribal law enforcement department by paying the salary and accompanying benefits of one officer, but that lone officer would be only the first in an estimated range of 15 to 50 officers needed, he said.
At present, the five or six BIA officers available sometimes are working double shifts, and unmet Ute law enforcement needs place a burden on Montezuma and San Juan Counties’ sheriff’s departments, he said.
The tribe’s detention facility should be funded at about $2.2 million per year but actually receives only $1 million, and law enforcement is operating on about $900,000 instead of the $2 million actually needed, he said. “The result is that we’re very understaffed in law enforcement.”