October brought two significant pieces of news in the regional battle against unneeded developments in beautiful natural areas.
First, the good news: On Oct. 31, the Navajo Nation Council voted 16-2 against legislation that would have given a green light to the Grand Canyon Escalade Project. That proposal, put forth by a group called Confluence Partners, LLC, would have installed a gondola tramway leading from the rim of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River. There, a riverwalk would be carved out along the bottom of the canyon, and there would be sites for hotels, vendor booths, and a “Discovery Center” offering dining, shopping, and more.
All this would have been located on Navajo land bordering Grand Canyon National Park, at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers.
On their website, the developers point out that, at 420 acres, the Escalade Project is much smaller than the 8,500-acre Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim and would be minimally intrusive in comparison. And we’re sure that’s true.
The point is, there is no pressing need for yet another development in or near the Grand Canyon, one of the greatest natural wonders in the entire world. Many Navajo, Zuni and Hopi view the confluence as sacred land. Certainly it deserves better than becoming a commercial ground zero for hordes of flush tourists.
The Navajo Nation Council rejected the proposal for a variety of reasons, many having to do with the terms of the agreement, which required the nation to pony up $65 million for infrastructure to serve the remote site.
Delegates noted that economic development is badly needed on the nation, particularly in light of the fact that the Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant near Page, Ariz., is likely to shut down soon. Their willingness to reject the proposal nevertheless is a testament to their clear-headedness and ability to look at the long view.
It’s not clear what will happen to the project, but its prospects appear shaky for the time being, and for that we’re thankful.
Now to the bad news: You’ve got to say this for Texas billionaire Red McCombs and the whole Village at Wolf Creek crew – they never give up.
Following years, even decades, of fierce fighting over their proposal for a luxury resort high on the frigid, pristine slopes of Wolf Creek Pass in Southwest Colorado, the Leavell- McCombs Joint Venture was dealt a major blow in May. That’s when Senior U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch issued a ruling that the Forest Service had not followed proper procedures when it approved a land swap that would provide road access to the private inholding where the Village is proposed. Matsch lambasted officials with the Rio Grande National Forest, saying they had not thoroughly scrutinized the impacts of the proposal, which includes up to 1,711 hotel rooms, condominiums, townhomes, single-family dwellings, and commercial spaces. All this would be plunked down in an area that is a wildlife corridor and watershed, the site of rare “fen” wetlands, and home to the federally threatened lynx.
Opponents of the proposal hoped the ruling would spell the end of it, but no. In October, the developers appealed the decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, ensuring years of litigation and uncertainty to come.
As with the would-be developers of the Grand Canyon Escalade, the Village’s backers cite economic development as a reason to create this monstrosity, implying that they are proposing it out of altruistic concern for the local community.
Economic development is certainly important, particularly for impoverished rural communities, wherever they may be. But there are ways to spur development without destroying beautiful places. The world doesn’t need another chalet-style resort where people can sip $20 glasses of wine and purchase overpriced coats (perhaps trimmed in lynx fur!).
It’s difficult to see how the developers could win their appeal, but one never knows what a court will do. Meantime, let’s all hope that Red Mc- Combs has a “Road to Damascus” change of heart and decides, as his enduring legacy, to donate his inholding to the national forest and let the trees, animals and wetlands remain undisturbed.
Perhaps he could even get together with the Navajo Nation and invest in some environmentally friendly development on the reservation that would create much-needed jobs and demonstrate his respect for the Mother Earth we all share.
Now that would be a legacy to be proud of.