U.S. Forest Service Poised To Approve Massive Development Project On Edge Of Grand Canyon (VIDEO)

Sheltered beneath the tall trees of the Kaibab Forest at the southern entrance to the Grand Canyon lies the tiny town of Tusayon, Arizona. Home to just 573 people — including 285 lucky kids who attend our nation’s only K-12 public school located in a national park — most residents are involved in the town’s thriving tourist industry.

Given that Tusayon lies a remote area, where you’ve basically got the Grand Canyon and nothing else, this bit of news from AZ Central seems rather odd:

 The U.S. Forest Service is considering a proposal to improve a few miles of road near the Grand Canyon, and to allow Tusayan to build sewer, water and power lines to two remote parcels of ranch land.

The writer, Ash Patel, warns that approval for this seemingly harmless proposal from the U.S. Forest Service is all that stands between the Grand Canyon and total disaster in the form of a massive construction project:

While this may sound fairly straightforward, Arizonans shouldn’t be fooled. This proposal threatens the Grand Canyon and the livelihood of many who provide services to visitors. The road and utility lines will make possible a sprawling commercial and residential development perched just outside Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim entrance.

It turns out that Gruppo Stilo, a sprawling multinational real estate development group, very much wants to cash in on those “two remote parcels of land” perched on the edge of the scenic Grand Canyon. In fact, they’ve already got the whole thing planned out. Visit their website and you’ll find detailed plans and drawings for a conference center, visitor lodging, a mall, a spa, a visitor center, “community facilities,” and residential housing for 2,100 people.

And sure, Gruppo Stilo’s plans look very restrained and tasteful and integrated with the natural surroundings and all that. But what could possibly be more monstrous and flat-out arrogant than a corporation (1)  buying remote land near a protected natural resource, (2) knowing that land shouldn’t be developed but spending 20 years trying to get it developed anyway, and (3) being so danged sure they’ll have their way, they just go ahead and promote their plans for their still-nonexistent development as if it’s a done deal.

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If this kind of smug, cocksure attitude doesn’t prove corporations have way too much power in this country and need to get taken down a peg, I don’t know what does. The Grand Canyon is owned by the National Park Service. The land where the dirt roads would need to be “improved” and through which  the water, sewer and power lines would need to run is owned by the U.S. Forest service.

Where will this Grand Canyon development get its water?

Since the U.S. Forest Service’s mission is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations,” you’d think objecting to a huge real estate development in a fragile area would be a no-brainer. Then again, the U.S. Forest Service is the agency responsible for allowing Nestle and other companies pump water out from the San Bernadino Forest in California for  bottled water in the midst of a four-year drought, so we can’t vouch for them any more.

Some argue that the development would also benefit current residents, and that may be true. But there’s one small problem: Water. An article by Earth Justice reminds any locals who might feel giddy at the thought of nearly tripling their population that lack of water is a serious issue in the southwest.

And the National Park Service is right to be worried. The development’s biggest threat should be obvious in the desert southwest: water, or lack thereof.  A new city on the canyon’s edge will require vast quantities of water.  Stilo, the Italian developer behind this project, won’t say where it will get the water, but groundwater pumping is the easy—and most damaging—option.

Here’s a news report on the controversy over this proposed development on the edge of the Grand Canyon from Al Jazeera.


Grand Canyon photo: cc 2012 Dietmar Rabbich/Wikimedia Commons (with embellisments).