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Gila River Indians Fight Freeway Expansion

Opponents have filed suit to try and stop construction of a 22-mile-long stretch of highway expansion in Phoenix, citing danger to tribal sites.
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Opponents of a planned highway project in Arizona that would risk habitat and destroy homes as it skirted the Gila River Indian Community have filed a lawsuit to try and stop construction.

The May 19 suit against the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration says that the project, approved by the federal government in March, would block the South Mountain Freeway, also known as Loop 202, according to West Texas News.

"We say to ADOT, move the freeway somewhere else," said Pat Lawlis, president of Protecting Arizona's Resources and Children, one of the plaintiffs, to KJZZ Radio News. "Or just scrap the idea. Our children, seniors and sacred mountains deserve nothing less than this level of respect and protection."

Members of the Gila River Indian Community, while not among the plaintiffs, also oppose the highway expansion, which would entail blasting through three ridges of Moadak Do’ag (South Mountain), according to the Akimel O'Odham Youth Collective.

“Moadak Do’ag is sacred to all O’otham tribes and holds cultural significance to eighteen other tribes,” the youth collective said in a statement when the plans received federal approval in March.

“This project has been opposed by members of the Gila River Indian Community since the 1980s,” the youth collective said. “There are numerous harmful impacts of freeway construction which include destroying the prehistoric villages of Villa Buena and Pueblo del Alamo, the destruction of threatened/endangered animal habitats, and the destruction of plants that are central to traditional O’otham culture. Environmental impact studies of the 202 freeway also state that the habitat for wild horses in Gila River would be irreversibly lost if the freeway is built, and that no alternative habitats for the wild horses exist.”

The 22-mile-long, $1.9 billion highway project is scheduled to begin construction in 2016, according to a Arizona Department of Transportation fact sheet.