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Bishop Paiutes will construct building for lease-back to federal agencies

BISHOP, Calif. ? In what could likely be the first partnership of its type, the Bishop Paiute Indian Tribe has teamed up with the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to construct a new office building which it will lease to the two federal agencies.

"This type of partnership between Indian tribes and federal agencies is the first of its kind in California; [it] is an example of the ongoing national effort of federal agencies working with tribes in their efforts for self-determination and self-sufficiency," said a Jan. 31 joint statement by the three involved parties.

On Jan. 19, the Bishop Paiute Development Corp., the tribe's for-profit business arm, was awarded a contract to build offices for the Bishop office of the BLM and the Forest Supervisor's office of the Inyo National Forest. The new office building will be situated on the Bishop Paiute Commercial Industrial Park, which is on the tribe's 875-acre reservation.

"[The project] was done as a business venture versus a cooperative agreement with the Forest Service," said Rick Tewa, general manager of the Development Corp., in a recent interview. "Generally if you do a cooperative agreement or a working relationship you can apply for grants. But this was an outright competitive bidding process and we built it on our own."

Designed by architects Soga & Albaugh of San Francisco, the building will be built by FLINTCO Constructive Solutions, a Native American contractor based in Oklahoma. Groundbreaking is set for April 26, with actual construction commencing in late spring or early summer. The projected move-in date is spring 2003.

"This is a new type of project for us," Tewa explained. "This is our first attempt at a commercial development effort. We've done smaller buildings, RV parks, mini-storage areas and stuff like that, but this is a build-to-suit facility [of a size] that we've never built."

Tewa added that the tribe will secure its own private financing, through either the sale of bonds or guaranteed bank loans to construct the facility, which will then be leased back to the agencies.

The agencies' co-location is part of a national initiative by the two organizations. Both the Forest Service and BLM make efforts to share work locations, resources, and employees in an initiative for better overall public service. According to the news release, "the two agencies in Bishop already work closely together, currently have one shared employee and frequently share resources."

"We as Native people have always depended on our livelihood from these bountiful valleys' and mountains' natural resources," said Monty Bengochia, chairman of the Bishop Paiute Indian Tribe, in the Jan. 31 statement. "We feel it proper to become the landlord for the two main federal agencies that oversee the public lands, which are also our ancestral homelands.

"The selection of the Bishop Paiute Indian Tribe to construct this facility for the USFS/BLM speaks well of how the tribe is working to diversify its economy and its approaches to business development," Bengochia continued. "Through the efforts of the Bishop Pauite Development Corporation we as a Tribe can look forward to other projects that will benefit our people and the surrounding communities. I see this project as only the beginning."