Nearly 200,000 comments, letters, petition signatures and other opposition to a controversial attempt to build a massive commercial development just a mile from the south entrance of the Grand Canyon have helped lead the U.S. Forest Service to reject the proposal.
The project would have paved the way—literally—for 2,000 units of multi-family and single-family housing, thousands of hotel rooms for visitors to the South Rim, two visitor-education foci—the Insight campus and the Native American Cultural Center—three million square feet of retail space, a spa, a conference center and community facilities, to be developed by Gruppo Stilo, an Italian development firm. The 600-population town of Tusayan had requested permission to expand roads and utilities in Kaibab National Forest in order to enable the development, and it’s that request that was denied even a review.
On March 4 Kaibab National Forest Supervisor Heather Provencio said in a letter to Tusayan, Arizona Mayor Craig Sanderson that the town’s request to enhance roads and utilities on the federal land did not even meet the minimum requirements for screening.
“Based on information received in the record, I have determined that the Tusayan proposal is deeply controversial, is opposed by local and national communities, would stress local and park infrastructure, and have untold impacts to the surrounding tribal and national park lands,” Provencio wrote in the letter. “For example, the current fresh water conveyance system serving the park is marginally capable of meeting their needs and could not absorb the additional needs of the connected development.”
That would require securing water from other sources, which could potentially have an impact on the park, Provencio’s letter said, concluding, “there is significant evidence the proposal is not in the public interest.”
In all the U.S. Forest Service received received 2,447 unique comment letters, 85,693 form letters, 86 comments connected to a blog, and two petitions with 105,698 signatures, the agency said in a statement. After an extension, more than 35,000 more comment letters came in.
“The vast majority of the commenters opposed the Forest Service authorizing the proposed roads and infrastructure,” the Forest Service said in its statement.
Tusayan officials expressed surprise.
"The Forest Service made the decision unilaterally,” Tusayan Town Manager Eric Duthie told Reuters. “It's quite shocking and it's just not fair.”
But environmental advocates called it a “grand victory,” as the Sierra Club put it, praising the decision as a win for Grand Canyon National Park.
“The Forest Service’s rejection of Stilo’s proposal to allow for roads to build a mega-mall development at the Grand Canyon’s doorstep is a huge win for the park and all those who love it,” said Kevin Dahl, Arizona program manager of National Parks Conservation Association, in a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity. “Expanding Tusayan was an ill-conceived idea and would have been a massive threat to one of our country’s crown jewels. It would have threatened critical water resources, essential for the park’s fragile and ecologically important springs and side creeks, and would have posed serious harm to Havasu Creek with its famous turquoise waterfalls.”
But the region is still under threat from uranium mining, The Guardian pointed out. The National Mining Association has filed a court challenge to President Barack Obama’s ban on new uranium mining leases, and drought continues to plague the water supply.