Grand Canyon Escalade Project Presses Forward

Grand Canyon Escalade Project Presses Forward

Confluence of Little Colorado and Colorado rivers in Grand Canyon
Photo by Deon Ben

The Fulcrum Group, a Scottsdale based company, has entered into a memorandum of agreement with  Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly to move forward on feasibility studies for a $120 million development on the east side of the Grand Canyon at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. The 420 acre Grand Canyon Escalade development will include a resort and vendor village on the rim and a tram gondola to the canyon floor to access a new river walk, and restaurant. The proposed project is located in a remote area of western Navajo’s Bodaway Gap Chapter.

The project would bring water to the area, probably from wells north of Tuba City. Water will open the door for other projects such as a long-proposed travel center at the junction of Highways 89 and 160, potentially making the proposed project more attractive to Navajo and local leaders. Despite these inducements, the Bodaway Gap Chapter has passed several resolutions overwhelmingly opposing the project, most recently on July 22.  Despite the local opposition, developers and the Navajo President’s office continue to press forward.

Along with local leaders and some Navajo Nation council delegates, many are concerned about the lack of jobs and high rates of poverty in the area.  The Bodaway Gap area is far behind the rest of the Navajo Nation in terms of jobs and infrastructure, due to the “Bennett Freeze,” a Federal Court mandated prohibition on any new development that has kept the area in limbo for over thirty years. The freeze was recently lifted and the developers immediately stepped in.

Many community members are concerned about the project and the way it is being pursued. They note that, contrary to usual practice, an agreement between developers and the tribe was forged without local knowledge or approval. Further, the area is sacred, not just to Navajo but to Hopi, Zuni, and other tribes who are considering what their responses may be. Some expressed that development should be kept closer to Highway 89.

The Grand Canyon Trust has several concerns with this project:

First, there are cultural protection issues that raise concern. Many traditional tribal people still conduct annual pilgrimages to the confluence area to conduct prayers, make offerings, and collect medicines. Many nearby tribes’ (i.e. Zuni and Hopi) emergence stories and oral history are also directly tied to the confluence and the canyon. We recommend that there be in-depth dialogue with the cultural leaders from these and other tribes.

Second, there are environmental issues such as potential adverse effects to Blue Spring from pumping groundwater and disposing sewage. This spring is the perennial source of water for the Little Colorado River and the only remaining breeding habitat for the Grand Canyon’s endangered humpback chub. Significantly, the project would result in development below the rim, bringing noise and light pollution to the most isolated and pristine part of the Grand Canyon.

We agree with others that the Chapter needs a well-designed economic development project. To do this, the Navajo Nation and the Chapter should partner to engage the community in conceiving plans for an appropriate development and then openly solicit bids and select a qualified developer. To the maximum extent, the process should aim to ensure local ownership and employment and protect the integrity of the sacred land. The Trust is poised to help the Chapter in moving forward in a positive way to protect the Canyon and build a sustainable future.

Click on the links below for more information about the proposed project:

Save the Confluence
Grand Canyon Escalade
Indian Country Today article
NY Times article

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