Escalade Project Faces Tough Road
Developers for a proposed $1 billion project at the base of the Grand Canyon will find it difficult going after the Navajo Nation’s Budget & Finance Committee shot the proposal down during its February 22 meeting.
By a 3-1 margin, the Budget & Finance Committee became the latest Navajo council committee to balk at the Grand Canyon Escalade project.
When the tribe’s Resource and Development Committee tabled Escalade legislation in January R. Lamar Whitmer, of the Confluence Partners, LLC., the developers for the project, suggested it was a positive move. Whitmer said tabling the legislation demonstrated that several committee members wanted a more thorough discussion of the proposal.
The Escalade project had already been unanimously voted down by the Law and Order Committee.
Now, after failing to garner support from the Budget & Finance Committee, the Escalade bill – sponsored by Delegate Benjamin Bennett – will go before the Naa’bik’iyati Committee, which consists of the chairs and vice chairs of the council’s various committees.
From there it would go before the full council; if it passes the council it would be forwarded to President Russell Begaye for his approval or veto. Begaye has voiced his opposition to the project.
The Grand Canyon Escalade development would see private developers build a tourist destination with hotels, food courts and a variety of shops on an undeveloped section of the south rim and continue to the floor of the Grand Canyon where the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers converge.
In addition to the retail businesses, the project would include a gondola that tourists could ride thousands of feet down to the canyon’s floor, to a place previously accessible only by launching a major expedition and guiding a rubber raft or wooden dory through 62 miles of roiling whitewater.
On the floor of the Grand Canyon tourists would find yet another swanky restaurant and a “river walk.”
Bennett’s legislation would authorize a master agreement, approve $65 million by the Navajo Nation to off-site infrastructure and let the Navajo Nation Hospitality Enterprise enter into a development and operational agreement with Confluence Partners.
Bennett’s legislation will also provide for a “non-compete” agreement between the Escalade and the Bodaway-Gap Chapter, which is the closest community to the billion-dollar development.
Budget & Finance Committee Vice Chairman Dwight Witherspoon said the developers still had to answer questions on how they would safeguard the Bodaway-Gap community and its water supply.
Although Whitmer said the local community supports the project, Bodaway-Gap Chapter President Don Yellowman disputes that.