The Navajo Nation Council won’t take up the Grand Canyon Escalade bill during its spring session, which starts today.
Missing from the council’s agenda is legislation that proposes the council approve a contract to perch a multimillion mega-tourist site at the confluence of the Little and Colorado Rivers in western Navajo Nation. Confluence Partners LLC, developers from Scottsdale, want to install a gondola that will transport visitors from the rim to the floor of Grand Canyon Eastern rim.
“T’ah,” or wait, Navajo Councilman Ben Bennett told legislative officials in late March when he pulled the bill from April 13 Naa’bik’iyati’ committee agenda. Had the standing committee voted, the council could have debated it this week.
It will be eight months since Bennett introduced the bill, which is moving through the tribal legislative process. The bill was assigned for review to the council’s Law and Order, Resources and Development, Budget and Finance, and Naa’bik’iyati’ committees before it reached the council.
Three committees rejected the bill. Naa’bik’iyati’ has yet to look over the bill.
Bennett has not given a reason for delaying the bill.
Critics of the Escalade, however, believe the bill is failing to receive overwhelming support from council members despite sustained, intense lobbying by Partners. Partners include Scottsdale political consultant Lamar Whitmer and former Arizona lawmaker and ex-Navajo president Albert Hale.
“This is a common procedural tactic on their part when they don’t have support, they postpone and postpone, divide, wine and dine and lobby our delegates to try to get support,” according to a statement from Save the Confluence, an organized group advocating for families against the project.
Escalade opponents also believe the project is pricey and others say the Partners are asking the council to violate tribal development law. The bill wants the nation to pay $65 million for the project’s infrastructure and withdraw 420-acres without the consent of grazing permit holders.
The land, the developers propose, could have a restaurant, hotel, a visitor center, a sewer/waste treatment plant, and parking lot.
Whitmer told the Arizona Republic none of the permit holders to the 420 acres shared their grazing paperwork. The newspaper reported it had obtained two copies, showing names of grazing permit holders, given to councilmembers twice since 2012.
Exactly when Bennett will place the bill on Naa’bik’iyati’s agenda is unknown.
Legislative officials said Grand Canyon Escalade is one of about 500 legislations introduced per year. The council does not consider or discuss all bills for varied reasons. The sponsor might withdraw the bill or it’s ignored until it dies.
The Grand Canyon Escalade bill, for example, expires Dec. 31, 2018, legislative officials said.
Meanwhile, 16 of 110 individual Navajo chapters approved resolutions opposing the Escalade. A majority are western Navajo chapters, an area where residents could benefit from Escalade jobs, the Partners say.