The promise of economic development at Camp Navajo saw its most significant step forward after it was included in both the U.S. Senate’s and House’s versions of the annual defense authorization bill.
Economic development at Camp Navajo clears hurdle after inclusion in defense bill
Both bills were passed last month, but the differences between the two versions still need to be hashed out before the final result can be signed into law.
“This is like a miracle to have this happen,” said Julie Pastrick, president of the Northern Arizona Military Affairs Council, during a call with Senator Martha McSally last month.
McSally led the effort on the Senate side to include the language addressing Camp Navajo in the bill. In the House, the push was spearheaded by Representatives Tom O’Halleran and Ruben Gallego.
The bill would allow for the transfer of close to 3,000 acres of land owned by the U.S. Army at Camp Navajo to be owned and managed by the State of Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs.
Being managed by the state should allow for private investment and businesses to begin locating in and around the camp. To this point, private investment has been largely impossible, mainly due to the intricacies of how the army manages its property.
Still, the effort to get the land transferred has not been an easy one. The whole process has taken close to five years and was originally started with the help of the late Senator John McCain.
But for Pastrick, when it is finally done, it will have been well worth the effort.
“It’s a key piece of how we will grow our economy and focus on high wage jobs,” Pastrick said. “We have an opportunity for business and private investment to locate here, in that area, and that will definitely shape the future and that landscape. We have fought for economic diversifications for so long.”
Pastrick said she and the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, of which she is CEO, have already seen interest on the part of businesses. The area’s position along a both a major rail line and the Interstate 40 corridor makes it an attractive location for many businesses.
Camp Navajo itself is yet another asset that may make it attractive for businesses, Pastrick added. Originally built as a munitions depot during World War II, the camp has several large igloos built to securely hold explosives and other sensitive materials.
At the moment, many of those igloos are unused, but they offer a unique capability that could help bring defense industry jobs to northern Arizona.
Arizona already has a nearly $5 billion defense industry, but most of those jobs are centered in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas.
Travis Schulte, the legislative liaison with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, has also been working on the economic development effort. The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs will be managing the land after it is transferred from the army, and Schulte said the change could also lead to more forest restoration.
Last year, Northern Arizona University tested the viability of a wood chipping operation at Camp Navajo and showed it could be profitable. NAU took materials from local forest thinning efforts and then shipped and sold them to a company in South Korea.
The transfer of this land represents the last big hurdle to achieving the goal, Schulte said. But even after it becomes law, the work is not done.
Although they have a general sense for which areas of land will be transferred to state control, Schulte said they still need to survey the area and finalize exactly which acres will be involved. They will then conduct an environmental analysis and work with Coconino County on a feasibility study for appropriate economic development opportunities.