Navajo officials said Thursday they won’t know until Friday when the Navajo Nation Council’s third committee takes on the Grand Canyon Escalade bill.
The Navajo Council’s Budget and Finance Committee is next in line to consider the legislation, which is making its way through the Navajo legislative process toward the Navajo Nation Council. On Wednesday, the council’s Resources and Development Committee shelved the proposal to build a gondola tram leading down to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers.
The committee refused to act after noting that the controversial resort proposal has deeply divided the community. Some council members stopped short of describing it as fishy legislation.
Check the committee’s agenda at www.navajonationcouncil.org/meetings.html
Though the tribe’s Budget committee meets Tuesday, Jan. 17, officials are unsure if bill sponsor Ben Bennett, Crystal, Fort Defiance, Red Lake and Sawmill councilman, will be ready. If the Budget committee takes action on the bill Tuesday, Naa’bik’iyati committee could put it on its Wednesday, Jan. 18 agenda, legislative officials said.
Naa’bik’iyati would be the last panel that considers the bill before the Navajo council adds to the winter session agenda scheduled to start Jan. 23 in Window Rock. Legislative officials said the timeline is ambitious but is doable.
The Escalade bill proposes the council approve a master operating contract with Confluence Partners LLC, developers from Scottsdale, who want to build a mega-tourist development site overlooking the confluence of the Little and Colorado Rivers. A key feature of the project is a gondola that will transport visitors from the rim to the floor Grand Canyon Eastern rim.
The bill also asks the nation to pay $65 million for the project’s infrastructure and approve a 420-acre land withdrawal, property which developers propose to build a restaurant, hotel, a visitor center and parking lot.
Confluence Partner Albert Hale projects the Escalade resort could open by 2020.
At Wednesday’s Resources Committee meeting in Bodaway/Gap Chapter, however, several delegates raised concerns and offered ideas about the bill. Walter Phelps, Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, Birdsprings, Leupp and Tolani Lake councilman, recommended the community unify before a bill is considered.
“You guys need to come back together, be one,” about the Escalade, Phelps told the audience of about 100 people.
Alton Joe Shepherd, Resources committee chairman who represents Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kinlichee and Steamboat, said the bill is missing “a lot of steps,” which include gaining consent from grazing permit holders, of which there are more than 30 in Bodaway/Gap area.
“I’m thinking of how this should be looked at,” said Shepherd, who displayed a list of permit holders submitted from the Navajo Land Administration. “Who herds sheep there at the edge? There are permit holders,…there are questions.”
Shepherd recommended the developer contact each grazing permit holder. He also asked the developer to include the new Bodaway/Gap administration in its future Escalade discussion.
The bill has support on Resources committee. It includes Vice Chair Ben Bennett and Davis Filfred, Mexican Water, To’likan, Teesnospos, Aneth and Red Mesa councilman.
Filfred said he supported the Escalade bill because he concluded the confluence of the two rivers as void of sacred space for Navajos. He came to this conclusion, he said, after the developers showed him a picture of LGBTQ people sunbathing in the Colorado River.