A panel of the Navajo Nation Council has scheduled a public meeting about the proposed Grand Canyon Escalade bill for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11 at Bodaway/Gap Chapter.
After three months of stalling and delaying, members of the council’s Resources and Development Committee agreed to meet at the chapter, where Escalade project received its first close vote, 59 to 52, in a 2012 resolution. Navajo Council Delegate Benjamin Bennett, Resources’ committee vice chair, is the Escalade bill’s sponsor.
View Resources’ committee agenda at, navajonationcouncil.org/MeetingSchedules/2017/JAN/11JAN2016_RDC_Spec_Mtg_Agenda.pdf
The legislation 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 of Grand Canyon.
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.
The legislation, filed in late August, is moving through the tribe’s legislative process toward the full council.
Resources committee is the second panel that votes on the bill before it moves to Budget and Finance and Naa’bik’iyati’ committees. Law and Order committee, which believed the project is costly and would tread on tribal sacred space, gave the proposed project a thumbs down in October.
Bodaway/Gap Chapter officials said the area’s Navajo elders want to hear an Escalade update last week. Twin Arrows Navajo Resort Casino near Leupp has been a venue for Escalade bill meetings.
Chapter officials said police will be available to, “protect elders.”
Nationally and locally, the bill is unpopular.
More than 60,000 people filed their opposition to the bill, which consisted of 8,417 Navajos who submitted opposing comments and about 131 people turned in comments supporting the bill in August, according to legislative officials.
Environmentalist and philanthropist Robert Redford endorsed Escalade opponents.
Some chapter members, who oppose the project, believe the upcoming meeting is a final ploy engineered by beleaguered, outgoing Bodaway/Chapter President Perry Slim. Slim’s term expires noon Thursday, Jan. 12.
Opponents view the meeting as a mechanism to keep support for Slim and the Escalade project.
Slim, after all, introduced the 2012 resolution and used it a job-creation campaign to score a chapter election then. The jobs failed to materialize under slim’s leadership and tribal ethics officials pressured him off the 2016 Navajo Nation chapter election ballot for alleged violations.
Bennett’s critics also note the councilman is not a local leader. He represents Fort Defiance, Sawmill, Red Lake and Crystal chapters, which are three hours away from Bodaway/Gap.
Crystal, one of Bennett’s own chapters, also refused to support the Escalade bill but backed the land users at the east rim in December. Crownpoint Chapter also stood behind land users in its resolution approved Dec. 20, 2016.
Other chapters that passed resolutions and are on record opposing the Escalade project include Tuba City, Coppermine, Cameron and Coalmine Mesa.