(CN) – The Navajo Nation’s law and order committee voted unanimously against legislation Monday that would approve $65 million in funding and a master agreement for a 420-acre mega-resort development planned for the eastern rim of the Grand Canyon near the confluence of the Colorado and little Colorado rivers.
A representative said the council had received 131 comments in support of and over 6,000 opposing the Grand Canyon Escalade, which includes a gondola tramway, hotels, restaurants and a cultural center. Environmental groups, tribal coalitions and thousands of individuals have spoken out against Escalade and in online petitions since the project’s unveiling in 2012.
Confluence Partners, a Scottsdale developer, maintains the project will create an influx of economic growth and off-site infrastructure to combat conditions created by the Bennett Freeze, a federal policy that halted development in the area for four decades due to a land dispute between the Hopi and Navajo tribes.
“We had to get federal approval to replace a door knob,” said Councilman Otto Tso about the Bennett Freeze.
Roughly half of residents living on the Navajo reservation are unemployed, according to the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture. Councilman Benjamin Bennett, representing the Ft. Defiance Agency, sponsored the legislation because Escalade will create an estimated 3,500 jobs with an average yearly salary of $39,000.
“The majority or all [of the opposing comments] are from non-Navajos,” Bennett said. “But how are we going to feed our families?”
At the meeting, Bennett was flanked by lead developer Lamar Whitmer and former Navajo president and current Arizona congressman Albert Hale, who spoke in support of Escalade. Hale said the development would bring young people back to the reservation.
“This is for our children,” Hale said.
After the presentation, all five committee members listed their concerns with the development.
Going forward, committee member Kee Allen Begay wants to see economic development with more local influence and support.
“Why can’t we invest back into our traditional way of life?” Begay said.
Tso echoed Begay’s concerns, adding his own about funding, engineering, historic preservation and eminent domain issues with the project. Confluence Partners has not yet gotten approval from grazing permit holders in the area.
“We have other initiatives we could use those $65 million dollars for,” Tso said. “When are we going to address the housing crisis?”
The meeting was also attended by Hopi officials and residents opposing the project due its proximity to the confluence, a sacred site for the Navajo and Hopi tribes, among others.
Despite the no-vote, the legislation will go before the Navajo Resource and Development Committee at a later date.
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