The Grand Canyon has been saved from further major development — for now. As reported by ABC News, the U.S Forest Service has rejected a road easement that would allow developers Stilo Development Group USA to move forward with a development of thousands of homes, as well as stores and hotels. The proposed development was to be situated in the small town of Tusayan, which is near the southern rim of the canyon. Most of the more than five million annual visitors approach the Grand Canyon from the southern end, through Tusayan. Forest Supervisor Heather Provencio wrote to Craig Sanderson, the mayor of Tusayan, about the Grand Canyon development.
“The project is deeply controversial and opposed by most of the tens of thousands of people who commented on it…the envisioned development would ‘substantially and adversely’ affect the Grand Canyon and nearby tribal lands.”
Environmentalists were opposed to the plan, saying it would damage the Grand Canyon National Park and put a strain on its already-stretched resources. According to the New York Times, Stilo began buying land in the Kaibab National Forest, which surrounds Tusayan, in the 1990s and is heavily involved in the Tusayan town council.
“The group recently worked in partnership with Tusayan business owners to incorporate the town, and then to secure a majority of seats on the town council and control over local zoning. It was a smart and effective strategy. But it also transferred to a small group of investors the power to irreparably harm the crown jewel of America’s park system.”
Not only is the Grand Canyon one of the most spectacular of North America’s natural features, but it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Grand Canyon has faced several attempts to develop its immediate surroundings since the area was made a national park in 1919. A dam was to turn the canyon into a lake (before the Hoover Dam was built further down the Colorado River), and a Koch brothers-funded organization is trying to overturn the Antiquities Act in order to mine uranium near the canyon, according to ThinkProgress.
Also, a resort featuring a cable-car and amphitheater, which hopes to attract as many as 10,000 people per day, is proposed on the eastern rim of the Grand Canyon, as reported by radio station KNAU. This proposal, known as The Grand Canyon Escalade, is currently on hold as new leaders of the Navajo Nation, which owns the land, are reassessing the plans.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Provencio’s letter explained the public interest in the Grand Canyon proposal. Forest “‘received 2,447 unique comment letters, 85,693 form letters, two petitions with 105,698 signatures, and 86 other comments.’ It later received 35,000 additional letters.”
“‘The vast majority of commenters opposed the Forest Service authorizing the proposed roads and infrastructure.'”
Kevin Dahl, the Arizona program manager of the National Parks Conservation Association, told the Los Angeles Times that his group was aware of the imminent Forest decision and had a few different responses prepared, but that they “‘got to send out the good one.'”
Mayor Sanderson told ABC News that the decision against Stilo would prevent the building of affordable homes in Tusayan. Stilo almost certainly has a contingency plan to push forward with the Grand Canyon development, but Sanderson seems keen to vent his frustration.
“We’re in the middle of pushing forward in anticipation of being able to utilize the land that we own and with this decision, it puts that on its heels, where do we go now?”
Although the Tusayan development is not happening at the moment, Dahl warns that the decision doesn’t mean the Grand Canyon is safe from the Stilo proposal, or indeed any other schemes that might be dreamed up in the future.
“You almost never completely defeat a crazy idea…because it will come back.”
[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]