For some time, there has been a typical boomer-&-booster financial scheme being puffed out of Phoenix out over Navajo country. After decades of quiet following the death of the Marble Canyon dam nightmare, another set of hypists have come trailing clouds of promises of instant prosperity for all, but which sound like a get-rich plan for a select few.
And this time, they are going after one of the Grand Canyon unique spots, the confluence of the Little Colorado River with the main river. Most of this post is a 14 June article from the Navajo Times, http://www.navajotimes.com/news/2012/0612/061412con.php , complete with scary drawings. However, before getting to that, please note that all the land involved is, in fact, within the Navajo Reservation. This marvelous place, where the aqua of the LCR mixes in with the brown (or green) of the mighty Colorado, was in the 1919 Grand Canyon National Park, but in the 1930's, although the rivers themselves stayed in the Park, their left banks went into the Reservation.
This is truly a defining moment for the Navajo, as well as for all of us. There is much that can be done within this Navajo Marble Canyon Tribal Park to help understanding and appreciation. However, destructive desecrations like dams or exploitation for industrialized tourism can only turn the Grand Canyon toward a future as just another Phoenix development. Dollar-crazed developers have lots of spoiled places to play in. The Grand Canyon, Navajo and National Park, provides a far better future for all the rest of us.
Whitmer was charged with misappropriation for allocating himself $40,000 in
per diem expenses in a single year, but a court determined the authority's
by-laws permitted the expenditures.
In a meeting with the Navajo Times last week, the Confluence Partners said
the plan would actually allow for better protection of sacred sites, and
they're working to convince the locals that the benefits to the community
would outweigh any disruption caused by the development.
"For a long time we couldn't get information out because the negotiations
with the Navajo Nation were under a confidentiality requirement," said Mike
Nelson, one of the Confluence partners.
Nelson is a former Arizona Superior Court judge and staffer for former
President Peterson Zah.
Added Albert Hale, "Now we will be out there making presentations."
According to the "frequently asked questions" section of a booklet provided
by the partners, Whitmer first approached Hale about developing the
confluence in 1997 while Hale was president of the Navajo Nation. At that
time, the area was under the Bennett Freeze and development was prohibited.
The area has been under the freeze for 40 years, Hale said, and this project
is one way to bring in infrastructure and jobs.
The master plan states the partners will hold a series of public hearings on
the project, "leading up to the chapter voting on a resolution of support
for the project."
Shelly will appoint a five-member stakeholder group to "assist the Navajo
negotiating team and insure that the local residents' interests are
Confluence Partners say the certified chapter has little to lose and much to
gain in approving the project.
"In addition to the chapter's business activity tax," reads the master plan,
"it is proposed that one-third of the Navajo Nation revenue be dedicated to
the rehabilitation of the Bennett Freeze area."
Once approval is obtained at the chapter level, the partners told the Times,
the project will go before the Western Agency Council and then the full
Navajo Nation Council before the project could proceed. It would be subject
to the usual environmental and archeological clearances.
Still in negotiation is a "master agreement" between Confluence Partners and the tribe, according to the president's office.
Deswood Tome, an assistant to President Ben Shelly, sat in on the meeting with the Navajo Times and said the project hinges on local support.
The partners say they will ask the Navajo Nation to provide a paved 27-mile access road from U.S. Highway 89 to the site along with water and electricity, which could be tapped by local residents who currently don't have utilities.
It is the responsibility of Confluence Partners to raise funds for the project from private investors and elsewhere, Hale said.
As far as protecting the sacred area around the Confluence and prayer sites on the canyon rim, the partners say development will actually help Navajos monitor the site.
For example, a point on the canyon rim that is sacred to several tribes will be blocked except for tribal members.
"Visitors will be restricted to the elevated walkway and the restaurant which are 300 feet from the Confluence of the Rivers," the master plan reads. "Existing prayer sites will be protected with landscape buffers to protect their privacy and access will be limited to Navajos only."
According to the plan, Hopi sacred sites will not be impacted "at all."
The plan points out that, at present, the National Park Service permits rafters to dock at the confluence and swim in the Little Colorado, so the area is already being used by tourists.
"It's time the Navajo people enjoy a share of Grand Canyon business!" reads the plan.
Although Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Dave Ubueraga told the Times in a previous interview the National Park Service would oppose any development on the canyon floor, the partners state in the plan they've received no official communication from the park service and "plan to work with the Park as good neighbors."
Based on visitation to other tourist sites at the Grand Canyon, the partners project 1.5 million visitors a year, or 10,000 "on a busy day."
The traffic would be a boon for local craftsmen who could sell their wares at a covered vending area by the parking lot, the plan states.
The developers estimate construction of the massive project would take 12 to 18 months, and the Grand Canyon Escalade could be open as soon as 2015.
Bodaway/Gap Chapter member Pauline Martin Sanchez said she has seen the master plan and attended several meetings on the subject, and still doesn't like it.
As an entrepreneur herself, she doesn't think it makes good business sense.
"The Navajo Nation is already building that big casino resort near Leupp," she said. "Why build another luxury hotel to compete with ourselves? Why not run tours to the confluence from the resort they're already building?"