After a tribal committee unanimously shot down a proposal to build a tourist resort at The Confluence, the Navajo Nation Council will hold a daylong work session to “study” the proposed development. But critics say the move is little more than a way for supporters of the project to lobby council members.
After supporters of the project voiced shock over opposition to the development, the Navajo Nation Council’s Resources & Development Committee removed the bill from its Tuesday agenda at a public meeting in Tse Bonita, N.M., near Window Rock. The panel had been the second of four committees scheduled to discuss and vote on the Grand Canyon Escalade Bill filed in late August before the legislation reaches the council for a final vote. The other committees are Budget and Finance and Naa’bik’iyati’. Earlier this month, the Law and Order Committee unanimously voted against the Escalade project.
Members accused bill sponsor Benjamin Bennett of meddling in a part of the reservation that he does not represent. And, members also contended that the requested $65 million tribal investment could be better spent on such things as roads, schools, housing and elder care.
Bennett, the Resources & Development committee’s vice chair who sponsored the bill, motioned to “drop stop” on the Escalade pending a “work session” Nov. 10 at Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort near Flagstaff. Members of the Naa’bik’iyati’ committee, which consist of the full council, also has its meeting the same day.
Some critics say the move by Bennett is simply a way to give him and Escalade supporters a day to lobby the entire Navajo Nation Council and try to win their support.
“It (the work session) is more about entertaining the outsiders that they (Confluence Partners) want to come in and destroy the Grand Canyon,” said Renae Yellowhorse, Save the Confluence spokeswoman. “We are surprised the council is even considering it. It’s allowing the opportunity for Confluence Partners to corrupt their minds some more.”
Yellowhorse recommended the council invite Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye’s economic development leadership team. They could be asked to study the Escalade bill and be allowed to ask questions, she said.
Begaye has vowed to veto the Escalade Bill if it reaches his desk.
The Escalade bill seeks a master agreement between the nation and Scottsdale-based Partners. Under the agreement, the Nation would pay $65 million in infrastructure for the tourist resort and asks the council to approve a 420-acre land withdrawal property which the Partners claim has no grazing permit holders.
The partners propose to build a hotel, restaurant, museum and parking lot and a gondola on the land overlooking the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado rivers. The project also features a gondola, which will take tourists from the canyon rim to the floor of the canyon, where they would trek a river walk and frequent at a café.
Legislative officials said Bennett requested the work session shortly after the council’s Law and Order committee unanimously rejected the bill earlier this month. The committee raised questions about where is the source of $65 million, had grazing permit holders given consent to the project and could the tourist development lessen, erode tribal religious space at the canyon?
Jerad Touchin, Navajo Nation Council spokesman, said Wednesday the Partners will give “an overview of the entire Escalade legislation” at the work session. The Naa’bik’iyati’ committee will meet after the session.
It’s common for the council to have more debate or vet certain bills before the full 24-members vote, Touchin said.
He could not say whether officials from various tribal departments, who quested the Escalade bill, would be available at the work session. These include Navajo Nation attorneys, historic preservation experts, the tribe’s financial officials, Navajo land administration officials and an advisory group of Navajo medicine men.
Exactly when Resources and Development Committee will take up the bill is unknown. The public can view the committee’s agenda at www.navajonationcouncil.org.
Here is a list of committee members and the chapters they represent:
- Alton Joe Shepherd, chairperson, Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kinlichee and Steamboat.
- Benjamin Bennett, vice-chairperson, Crystal, Fort Defiance, Red Lake and Sawmill.
- Leonard Pete, Chinle.
- Walter Phelps, Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, Birdsprings, Leupp and Tolani Lake.
- Davis Filfred, Mexican Water, To’likan, Teesnospos, Aneth and Red Mesa.
- Jonathan Perry, Becenti, Lake Valley, Nahodishgish, Standing Rock, Whiterock, Huerfana, Nageezi and Crownpoint.