Posts Tagged ‘Earthjustice’

New Grand Canyon Battle Over Tusayan Development

May 19th, 2015

New Threat To Grand Canyon: Mega Mall at Tusayan Just Outside Southern Boundary of National Park

New David Leland Hyde Photograph: Clearing Sunset Near Vista Encontada, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Time Is Running Out: See Petition Below to Take Action Now to Stop Development That Will Alter Grand Canyon National Park Forever

2. Clearing Sunset Near Vista Encontada, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. I exceeded the national park speed limit to get to this unnamed stop after photographing Point Imperial with the sun still above the horizon. I set up my camera and tripod as quickly as possible as the light was fading to dark fast. The howling strong wind required me to make a number of exposures before I got a sharp one.

Clearing Sunset Near Vista Encontada, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, copyright 2014 by David Leland Hyde. I rushed to get to this unnamed stop after photographing Point Imperial with the sun still above the horizon. I set up my camera and tripod as quickly as possible as the light was fading fast. The strong howling wind required me to make a number of exposures before I got a sharp one. (Click on the Image to see the photograph large.)

Growing Up Wild

Starting when I was age four, my father, American conservation photographer Philip Hyde, and my mother, a self-trained ornithologist and botanist, took me on backpacks often more than a dozen miles into the wilderness in search of photographs to help establish national parks and wilderness areas.

(To see the photograph even larger or to order prints, go to “Clearing Sunset Near Vista Encontada, Grand Canyon, Arizona.”)

Dad also grew up watching his father compose and interpret wild places. My grandfather, Leland Hyde, a regionalist painter, depicted local scenes near the family home in Northern California. The Hydes also visited national parks when they took a drive across the rural countryside from San Francisco to New York. Dad first saw the Grand Canyon on that trip at age 11. With this first impression vivid in memory, during World War II on a furlough, he visited the Grand Canyon again with his sister, my aunt Betty. Dad later worked on a number of campaigns that took him down the Colorado River by Grand Canyon Dory, cousin of the drift boat, for the first time in 1956 and into the canyon on foot, mule or by riverboat at least a dozen more times in following decades.

A year before I was born, my parents explored the flooding Colorado River and side canyons after the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1964. That same year, Dad and a coalition of photographers, scientists, writers and filmmakers took a dory trip through the Grand Canyon to make a book to help save the canyon from two proposed dams, one just above the National Park and one below. With Time and the River Flowing: Grand Canyon landing on desks in Congress, full page ads in the New York Times and other major papers, an international letter-writing campaign and a groundswell of public support like the young environmental movement had not yet seen, the Bureau of Reclamation abandoned its plans to build the Grand Canyon dams.

Having had a childhood immersed in wilderness, I am a believer in wild country and silence for the power it has to build character. It is what has built the American character since before our Declaration of Independence.

The Wild Grand Canyon As Shaper of Character

If you take a helicopter or airplane into the Grand Canyon, it is more convenient, but less memorable. If I could take any of the tourists up on the North or South Rim behind the railings, making snapshots and give them all that I discovered about sedimentary rocks, erosion, myself and the world by investing the time to hike in the canyon, if I could give them the memory of what it was like to have a caring father hike the Bright Angel Trail with me as a teenager, they too would keep a piece of the Grand Canyon in their hearts forever.

My experiences on a river trip and hike from Phantom Ranch to the South Rim on the Bright Angel Trail happened at the right moment to shape me as a young man defining my outlook on the world. Grand Canyon National Park worked on me, but the place we visited in the spring of 1979 has already changed and may not be the same as it was for much longer. Already overcrowding, airplane noise and wear and tear on trails, natural features and park infrastructure are overwhelming the underfunded National Park Service in Grand Canyon. For the majority of guests, their experience has diminished from immersion in a life-altering challenge and an up-close view of grandeur to the passive observation of a soon forgotten curiosity, like those found at a carnival or behind glass in a museum.

New Threats to The Wilderness Experience in the Grand Canyon

Today, three major threats surround the Grand Canyon: uranium mining, a proposed development with a gondola tram to the bottom of the Canyon at the eastern border of the national park, and the largest of all, a mega mall and resort larger than the Mall of America just outside the southern park boundary in the town of Tusayan. Because of these threats and water mismanagement, American Rivers has named the Colorado River the number one endangered river in the U.S. for three years in a row.

Though the Department of Interior banned new uranium mining claims in the Grand Canyon area for 20 years, pre-existing claims like the Canyon Mine carry on, despite opposition based on risks to groundwater, wildlife, endangered species and sacred sites of the Hualapai, Kaibab Paiute, Zuni, Hopi and Navajo tribes.

The pending Grand Canyon Escalade development and tramway on Navajo lands bordering the national park on the east has divided the tribe and is currently in debate in the tribal council. The tramway would slice through Navajo, Zuni and Hopi sacred land at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. Nearly as great a travesty would be the visibility of the top of the tram and development from one of the most iconic views of the Grand Canyon, ironically called Desert View. The developer, R. Lamar Whitmer, said he wants to make this special part of the canyon easily accessible to the world. Next someone will want to build a tram to the top of Everest to allow everyone to experience the summit.

(To read more about the confluence and hiking over 32 miles to Cape Solitude where the confluence is best viewed, see these superb accounts by two online friends of mine: “Through The Grama” by Greg Russell of Alpenglow Images and “Pilgrimage To Solitude” by A. Jackson Frishman of Crest, Cliff and Canyon.)

The Marketing of The Grand Canyon Tourist Experience as the Ideal

Meanwhile, south of the national park boundary the U. S. Forest Service has opened a public comment period to end June 2, on whether it should approve the rights-of-way to pave and widen access roads providing for an 80 foot wide utility and footpath corridor through the Kaibab National Forest on the way into sections of speculative private land. The improved roads will pave the way for the quiet, recently incorporated company town of Tusayan to transform into a resort complex with three million square feet of commercial space including hotels, a luxury spa, a Western dude ranch, a Native American cultural center and boutique retail shops; as well as hundreds of private homes at a mixture of prices and a staging area for bus and air tours of the national park. These additions would greatly increase the burden of travelers in the already over-crowded national park with crumbling facilities.

For most of two decades, Italian owned Stilo Development Group has been quietly buying up private land around the village of Tusayan. About a decade ago, Stilo made a first attempt to build a resort at Tusayan, but Coconino County residents voted it down. Stilo then convinced the Arizona legislature to make an exception to the minimum population requirement of 1,500 residents for town incorporation. The village of Tusayan, population 558, incorporated and formed its own town council and planning board. Stilo and local air tour companies campaigned successfully to pack the elected town council with development supporters, who then approved a resort plan three times as large as the original voter rejected Canyon Forest Village.

Strategy Forty-Eight, the public relations firm for Stilo, on its website says it “helped Stilo develop a long-term strategy to build a positive corporate identity in town…” The PR firm’s “approach included targeted messaging, grassroots organizing, event planning and the production of a series of popular web videos during a successful political campaign funded by Stilo to incorporate the town in 2010.” Currently, on Tusayan’s Future Facebook page, Stilo is offering free tacos and the opportunity to “Learn more about the Tusayan Roadway Application and how to file a comment with the Forest Service.” Despite similar enticements by Silo several times a week, the majority of the Forest Service comments so far have been from all over the US, opposing the road improvements that will make possible a massive development close to the Grand Canyon.

Another Development in the West With No Plan for Water

The current proposed vacation complex still has no specific plan to supply the vast amount of water it will use. Drilling wells to tap groundwater could bring future lawsuits, but has not been ruled out. Arizona law requires that 100 years of water be available for any development in sensitive thirsty areas like Tucson, Scottsdale and Phoenix, but no restrictions exist around the vulnerable South Rim where most groundwater, seeps and springs source from two aquifers underlying the Coconino Plateau. Arizona law historically has separated surface and groundwater, but recent litigation in central Arizona along the San Pedro River has now legally established that surface and groundwater may be related, said Robin Silver, founder of the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity.

Silver also cited discharge analyses of two ecologically important Grand Canyon springs. Discharge flows from Cottonwood and Indian Gardens Springs have been decreasing since at least 1994. Though direct correlation has been difficult to establish because of the complexity of the two underlying aquifers, researchers have measured parallels between the small settlement already built at Tusayan and decreasing flows of the springs in the national park. National park officials and Havasupai tribal leaders have voiced concern that even small increases in groundwater pumping by any or all wells on the Coconino Plateau could deplete the more than 500 springs vital to life between the South Rim and the Colorado River. The aquifer-fed springs are also critical to the flow in Havasu Creek and its five waterfalls at the core of survival and tourism for the Havasupai Nation. The Forest Service is required to consider all of this in its cumulative effects analysis before approving the road rights-of-way.

Water for hotels and amenities at the South Rim inside the park comes by pipeline from Roaring Springs on the North Rim. Due to rock cracks, shifts, falls, traffic on the Bright Angel Trail surface above the pipeline and the age of the pipe, it breaks, leaks and has to be repaired six to 30 times a year, said Tim Jarrell, park maintenance chief.

Fishing Around For Water Options

Stilo representative Tom De Paolo said that other water supply possibilities for its mega resort include reversing and re-using the abandoned Black Mesa Pipeline that once carried coal slurry, coal mixed in water, from the Hopi Reservation to a power plant near Laughlin, Nevada. Water could also be trucked in or delivered by train, as done in other remote desert locations. Stilo has retained former U. S. Senator John Kyl as legal counsel to look into options.

“Pipeline is number one,” De Paolo said. “Rail is number two, truck is number three, groundwater is number seven. I haven’t thought up four, five or six yet.”

Endangering Endangered Species and Impacts to the National Park

Even if Stilo puts together a water scheme, the proposed development would infringe on wildlife and habitat and could jeopardize endangered species such as the California Condor, Northern Goshawk, Bald Eagle, Mexican Spotted Owl, American Peregrine Falcon and several species of bats and squirrels. Over 20 types of plants are listed on the Grand Canyon special status lists. Also threatened are a few flowering plant and animal species found only in the area.

The Center for Biological Diversity recently filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the Arizona wetsalts tiger beetle and Macdougal’s yellowtop, a flower in the aster family found nowhere else on Earth besides the wet areas around South Rim seeps. The wetsalts tiger beetle is an important insect predator also endemic to springs of the Western Grand Canyon.

Besides threats to native flora and fauna, present national park facilities cannot sustain more visitors. Park facilities are currently $330 million underfunded and behind in key upgrades and maintenance. The National Park Service has considered cutting back the number of park visitors and indicated it may need to cut back air traffic over the canyon.

“It is a World Heritage Site, one of the Seven Wonders of the World—and that is not a place that needs additional development,“ said park superintendent David Uberuaga. “It is not a place to be entertained, but a place to come to connect to creation and this experience.” Uberuaga said the Tusayan development is the greatest threat in the 96-year history of the park.

Killing The Local Economy

The Stilo complex is expected to hurt the economy of neighboring Northern Arizona communities. The Flagstaff Council passed a resolution opposing the application to the Forest Service by the town of Tusayan for the road easements that would make expansion possible.

“Our hoteliers and our restaurateurs, our businesses here, we are the gateway to the Grand Canyon,” said Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce government affairs director, Stuart McDaniel. Representatives from Williams, Cameron and Valle, Arizona also believe their communities will be adversely affected by a massive center at Tusayan.

With opposition from surrounding towns, the National Park Service, the Havasupai Nation, a conservation coalition consisting of Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and Grand Canyon Trust, not to mention comments and letters from around the world condemning the expansion of Tusayan; will the Forest Service listen? The Kaibab National Forest has a track record of taking any opportunity possible to widen or pave roads. The Center for Biological Diversity is also currently commenting on and opposing a proposal by the Kaibab National Forest to open 291 miles of roads across 30,000 acres in the forest to motorized dispersed camping.

Take Action: Write the Forest Service or the White House

The Forest Service has a mandate to support many uses of its forests, not to allow forests and wildlife to be destroyed to pave the way for one use. It also has a mandate to consider all impacts. Regarding the Stilo development, the Forest Service must be mindful of spillover impact into the adjacent national treasure.

“The Kaibab National Forest continues to promote tribal participation in establishing agency management goals and activities,” said the 2013 Yearly Management Report. Readers who care about preserving the Grand Canyon and our national parks as they are, now is the time. Write the Forest Service before June 2, to make sure it lives up to its own publicity, or just fill out this handy, easy to fill out petition by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Perhaps with enough input from citizens, the Forest Service at the Grand Canyon will support the National Park Service in fulfilling its mission: “To conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

A Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument may also be possible. Arizona Congressional Representatives Raul Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick and Ruben Gallego wrote a letter in January to President Obama stressing the natural and economic importance of the Colorado River watershed and the serious threats it faces. Letters from readers to the White House would also help build momentum for a national monument. Future generations deserve to explore the Grand Canyon as it has been. Each visitor who is willing, deserves to experience the challenge and elation of immersion in the rugged wild of the Grand Canyon, like I did with my family growing up.

A River Will Run Through It

February 23rd, 2010

Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River, during removal looking upstream. Courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Grants Pass, Oregon–The momentum continues for removing dams and freeing America’s wild rivers. Dams on the Rogue River and Klamath River in Oregon, Hetch Hetchy Valley on the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park, California and Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in Arizona and Utah, are just a few of the targets of dam demolition campaigns.

Nearly 90 years ago the Grants Pass Irrigation District built Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River to provide irrigation water for nearby farms. Farmers benefited; fish did not. Fish ladders were installed for coho and chinook salmon and steelhead, but they did not change the dams status as the biggest fish killer on the river.

A Portland, Oregon organization known as Waterwatch, spearheaded campaigns to remove Savage Rapids Dam, Gold Ray Dam, Gold Hill Dam, Elk Creek Dam and Lost Creek Dam from the Rogue River, historically Oregon’s second largest salmon spawning watershed behind the Klamath River. Projects are also in motion on the Klamath River that will eventually set the mighty river completely free, supported by the Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes.

River ecosystems are the basis of all life on Earth. Not only do dams kill fish, they destroy other native species, increase the negative effects of drought as opposed to alleviating these as often publicized, increase the water’s salinity, encourage non-native trees and shrubs, remove sandbars, marshes and other habitat for small land and marine animals and waterfowl, waste more water than they save, especially in arid climates, and often lose money as they fail to produce the levels of hydro-power projected. Technologies have recently been refined that allow for hydro-power to be generated without damming rivers; by merely diverting a portion of the flow through large pipes into turbines.

Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River, former site immediately after breaching, looking downstream. Courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Waterwatch staff fearlessly decided three years ago that Savage Rapids Dam must go. Demolition began in October 2006, the dam was completely breached in October 2009 and one of the largest dam removal projects in the country is now almost complete. To get the project going, Waterwatch representatives argued about water rights, rallied fishermen and kayakers, and they got in touch with Earthjustice attorneys Mike Sherwood and Claudia Polsky. Earthjustice, a spinoff from the Sierra Club, started as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in 1971, and changed its name to Earthjustice in 1997. Mike Sherwood and Claudia Polsky recently succeeded in gaining Endangered Species Act protection for the coho salmon. They were thereby able to charge the dam operators with illegally harming a protected species. Eventually all parties agreed that the dam would come out and be replaced with pumps that divert water straight out of the river for farms, with no impoundment necessary.

American Rivers, based in Washington DC, “has led a national effort to restore rivers through the demolition of dams that no longer make sense,” said American Rivers promotional materials. “The organization’s expertise and advocacy have contributed to the removal of more than 200 dams nationwide.” American Rivers released a statement last month that in 2009, 58 dams in 16 states, were taken down.

“In the 1950s and ’60s, a dam went up in the United States every six minutes to generate electricity, provide irrigation water and protect against floods,” wrote Matthew Preusch in the New York Times. “As a result, there are an estimated 75,000 aging dams blocking rivers large and small today.”

Hetch Hetchy Valley, Field of Stumps, Yosemite National Park, 1955, by Philip Hyde, who discovered that the water level was very low and drove straight to the Sierra Club Headquarters in San Francisco to tell David Brower. David Brower dropped everything, grabbed his movie camera and they rushed back to photograph and film. To this day Restore Hetch Hetchy uses the David Brower film and Philip Hyde photographs in their campaign to restore this paradise lost. The Sacramento Bee won a Pulitzer Prize for their series covering the Hetch Hetchy debate. Philip Hyde's widely published photograph appeared on PBS Television's Jim Lehrer News Hour in a segment about the controversy in 2008.

A California group, Restore Hetch Hetchy, continues to fight for the restoral of Yosemite National Park’s Hetch Hetchy Valley. Hetch Hetchy is a sister valley to Yosemite and at one time approached Yosemite Valley’s beauty, with waterfalls, rich grasslands and wildlife, verdant forests, and the Tuolumne River lazily winding through the center. However, after the 1906 Earthquake, San Francisco proposed damming Hetch Hetchy Valley to form a reliable water supply. John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, led the opposition to the dam. Many say he died of a broken heart after the O’Shaughnessy Dam flooded Hetch Hetchy Valley. Gifford Pinchot, leader of the U. S. Forest Service, who many now claim was an environmentalist, was one of the leading proponents of the dam. Ironically, modern studies show that San Francisco could obtain the same amount of water with less expense downstream.

Hetch Hetchy was the first and last time any agency built a dam on National Park lands. A coalition of environmental organizations, led by the Sierra Club and David Brower, successfully defeated two dams proposed in Dinosaur National Monument in the early 1950s and lobbied Congress to pass legislation that strengthened laws preventing such development in the National Park System. However, to save Dinosaur National Monument, the coalition of environmental groups had to endorse the damming of Glen Canyon as a better alternative. Few people had ever seen Glen Canyon. By the time wilderness proponents Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde and other Sierra Club landscape photographers published spectacular images lamenting the loss of one of the world’s most beautiful wild places in the early 1960s, it was too late. The Bureau of Reclamation had already closed the gates on the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell had begun to consume the canyon wilderness.

Glen Canyon Dam and "Lake" Powell, Utah and Arizona. Creatas Photos Royalty Free Photograph.

Today, the granddaddy dam removal proposal of them all is to redeem Glen Canyon and make it a National Park. The Glen Canyon Institute has piloted this endeavor since 1996 with support from David Brower, Philip Hyde and currently Philip Hyde Photography. Read Philip Hyde’s expression of grief over the loss of Glen Canyon and part of the Escalante Wilderness in the blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde.” “Lake” Powell, or Powell Reservoir to be more accurate, has drawn down over 100 feet in droughts several times and reached an all-time low in 2003. The reservoir was only completely full for a short time in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The sandstone bedrock leaks more water than the net storage for irrigation and the “lake” surface evaporates more water every year than the “lake” holds. Glen Canyon Dam has prevented the Colorado River from the periodic flooding that forms sandbars vital to the survival and propagation of plant and wildlife species downriver in Grand Canyon National Park. In contrast, small daily fluctuations due to power generating releases have carried away most of the sandbars and threatened endangered species, disrupting the natural ecosystem of Grand Canyon National Park. Reportedly, the soft sandstone that Glen Canyon Dam is anchored in, nearly failed in 1983 after a flood on the upper Colorado River. Glen Canyon Dam is aging and its lifespan is estimated at as little as 100 years by dam removal proponents and 500-700 years by the Bureau of Reclamation. The heavy-laden Colorado River and San Juan River are rapidly filling Powell Reservoir with silt that decreases electricity generation and can interfere with Glen Canyon Dam’s proper operation. A breach of Glen Canyon Dam could cause a floodwave that would top the downstream Hoover Dam by as much as 230 feet, resulting in a potential megatsunami disaster downstream. Much more on Glen Canyon Dam, “Lake” Powell, Edward Abbey and the The Monkey Wrench Gang in future blog posts. See also the blog posts, “Glen Canyon Lament 1 By Philip Hyde,” “Glen Canyon Portfolio 1” and “Glen Canyon Portfolio 2.” For more about who Edward Abbey was read the blog post, “Who Was Edward Abbey?

References:
Earthjustice Press Release.
The Portland Orgonian, Oregon Environmental News, “The Rogue River Dam Removal Moves Forward”
Waterwatch
American Rivers
New York Times, “Dams Go Down, Uncorking Rivers For Kayakers”
Restore Hetch Hetchy
Glen Canyon Institute
Scientists Struggle to Preserve Grand Canyon Wildlife