Colorado Plateau tribes still have time to weigh in on a proposed $500 million commercial development in the town of Tusayan, Arizona, a mile from the south entrance to Grand Canyon National Park.
“We’ll be conducting ongoing government-to-government consultations with the tribes in the region,” said Kaibab National Forest Tribal Relations Program Manager Mike Lyndon. He has already spoken with the Havasupai and Hopi tribes, he said. The other Indian nations with interests in the region are the Hualapai, Kaibab Paiute, Navajo and Yavapai-Prescott tribes and the Pueblo of Zuni.
Individuals, however, must get involved now if they want to have a say. The Forest Service’s 40-day scoping period for proposed road improvements and utility easements necessary for the project to go forward ends June 2.
The scoping period is not just an opportunity for people to register comments on the project, but is also the only chance people will have to bring their concerns forward in order to have them considered in the environmental analysis that will determine whether the Forest Service permits the roadwork, says Deirdre McLaughlin, a staffer with the Kaibab National Forest.
The process involved in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) addresses public concerns such as impacts on groundwater, seeps and springs, wildlife, historic resources, and cultural practices and sites. But those concerns must be explicitly stated by the public during the scoping period in order to be considered.
The Forest Service is looking only at whether to widen the roads that lead to the two private holdings in the Kaibab National Forest where the proposed development would be located. Its informational materials do not even mention the proposed development, but this is a critical stage in determining its future.
The development would include 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—3 million square feet of retail space, a spa, a conference center and community facilities. It would be located on properties in the Kaibab owned by the Italian company Stilo Development Group. It is unrelated and separate from the Grand Canyon Escalade development proposed at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers at the eastern end of the Grand Canyon.
Tom De Paolo, Stilo’s managing director for U.S. investments, says the development would enrich visitors’ experience at Grand Canyon National Park and would be a resource for tribes, who would have the opportunity to tell their own story at the Cultural Center, and tribal members, who could have access to jobs, housing and retail venues for their arts.
In March, Earthjustice sent a letter to Forest Service officials objecting to the proposed development on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity.
“Because the purpose and effect of the easements sought is to make possible the build-out of Stilo’s mammoth development, the Forest Service must consider whether making that development possible is in the public interest and whether the development will unreasonably conflict and interfere with adjacent non-National Forest System lands,” Earthjustice wrote.
Several community groups are demanding a full environmental impact statement rather than just an environmental assessment. Unlike an assessment, an impact statement would require the Forest Service to detail the potential effects of the project along with possible mitigation strategies.
Beginning back in 1991, Stilo was involved in another proposed development in Tusayan. Canyon Forest Village would have included hotels, housing, a Native American Insight Center and other tourist amenities. That project fell through in 2000, with water being one of the main sticking points.
Where the water for such a huge project would come from and how it would get to Tusayan is a major challenge—and concern—this time around as well.
De Paolo said tapping groundwater resources is off the table, in part because of the threat to seeps and springs around the Grand Canyon. Other options that Stilo is looking at include bringing in Colorado River water by truck or rail, or repurposing the Black Mesa pipeline to carry water from the Colorado River to Black Mesa, with an ancillary pipeline that would take water to Tusayan and possibly spurs to provide water to Navajo chapters and Hopi villages. De Paolo said he has been in talks with some Navajo Nation officials who have expressed interest in the pipeline concept. The pipeline, once used to slurry coal from mines on Navajo and Hopi land, is owned by Tulsa-based ONEOK, with whom Stilo has partnered to form a new company, Preserve Canyon Water LLC.
The Forest Service is accepting comments on the proposed roadwork (actually on the proposed development) until June 2. Comments may be filed online, by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org; via U.S. mail to Attn: Deirdre McLaughlin, Kaibab National Forest, Williams Ranger District, 742 S. Clover Rd., Williams, AZ 86046, or by fax to (928) 635-5680 with the subject line Tusayan Roadway Easements.