The Grand Canyon in Arizona seen from the Desert View observation point on May 11, 2014.

The Grand Canyon in Arizona seen from the Desert View observation point on May 11, 2014.

The Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring gorge of the Colorado River in Arizona. About 5 million sightseers, hikers and paddlers visit Grand Canyon National Park every year. As federal land it’s protected, but much of the land nearby is not. There’s a fierce battle going on in the region and nationally over two proposed development plans: One is a 1.4 mile tramway that would take visitors to new restaurants and an amphitheater at the bottom of the canyon. The other is a commercial development with more than 2,000 new homes, less than two miles from the park entrance. We look at the battle to balance private property rights and public land preservation.


  • David Uberuaga Superintendent, Grand Canyon National Park.
  • Albert Hale Spokesperson for the Grand Canyon Escalade project, Arizona state representative and former president, Navajo Nation.
  • David Roberts Freelance writer, veteran mountain climber and author of 27 books which include "The Mountain of My Fear" and "Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative."
  • Bob Irvin President, American Rivers.
  • Tom dePaulo Spokesperson, the Stilo Group.


  • 10:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Grand Canyon is one of America's most popular national parks, and it's likely to stay that way, but some say its future is seriously threatened by development plans. Here to talk about the Grand Canyon and the projects that have been proposed, Bob Irvin of American Rivers. Joining us by phone from Boston, David Roberts, a freelance writer, and Tom dePaulo of the Stilo Group. That's a commercial development company. He joins us from KJZZ in Tempe, Arizona.

  • 10:07:34

    MS. DIANE REHMI know you'll want to weigh in. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send an email to Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thanks to all of you for joining us.

  • 10:07:52

    MR. DAVID ROBERTSThank you.

  • 10:07:53

    MR. BOB IRVINThanks for having us here.

  • 10:07:54

    REHMGood to have you. David, let me start with you. For those of us who have never seen the Grand Canyon, describe it for us.

  • 10:08:05

    ROBERTSWell, it's overwhelming, and I think it's really hard to apprehend on first contact, especially if you're among the mobs at the South Rim, just staring off from a guardrail. I think the only way to really grasp the Grand Canyon is to get down inside it, either on the river itself, the Colorado River, by raft or hiking any of the hundreds of trails that lead from the rim to the river or even just partway.

  • 10:08:36

    REHMAnd Bob Irvin, I gather it's not only one of the most popular parks in this country, it has a grand history.

  • 10:08:48

    IRVINThe Grand Canyon is truly one of the world's great wonders. It's been named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, and it's -- you know, it wasn't fully explored until the late 19th, early 20th century. John Wesley Powell was the first person to take boats down the Colorado River. And I couldn't agree with David more. The only way to fully appreciate it is to actually hike down into it or to be on the river.

  • 10:09:14

    REHMAnd it was back in 1908 that President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument. But I gather, Bob, your organization, American Rivers, has also called this the most endangered river of 2015. Tell us why.

  • 10:09:45

    IRVINSure. Each year, American Rivers puts out a list of the 10 most endangered rivers, and in 2015, we named the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon as America's most endangered river. And we did that because while most people think that the river and the Grand Canyon National Park are fully protected, the reality is there are some serious threats to the river and to the park.

  • 10:10:09

    REHMSuch as?

  • 10:10:11

    IRVINThree major threats. First, a proposed tramway and resort development at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, a gondola that would take 10,000 people a day from the rim of the canyon to the bottom and all of the associated tourist facilities that go with that, at a place that is a sacred spot for the tribes that live in that area and which, for anyone who's had the good fortune to be on the river, they know that the confluence is truly a special place.

  • 10:10:45

    IRVINA second threat is from a proposal to expand an existing community, a small community of about 500 people just outside the south entrance of the park, Tusayan, to dramatically expand it by building a European-style spa, a dude ranch, hotels and homes, more than 2,000 new homes without any clear plan for how you're going to provide water for that vast expansion of this community in a desert environment, where water is the scarcest resource. And third, continued pressure to re-open existing uranium mines and to open new ones in and around Grand Canyon National Park and the threat that that poses to contaminating, again, the scares water supplies that feed the Colorado River.

  • 10:11:38

    REHMAnd to you, Tom dePaulo, you are a spokesperson for the Stilo Group, seeking approval for commercial development. Tell us about what you foresee.

  • 10:11:58

    MR. TOM DEPAULOFirst of all, good morning, and I have to say I couldn't agree more with both the other guests in everything they've said. I think to kind of answer your question, if I could just take a few minutes to try and compress 25 years into some brevity. Back in the '90s, we were invited by the Forest Service to effect a land exchange, primarily to address needs of the Park Service. And the Forest Service was the lead agency, the Park Service was a cooperating agency, and what the intent was of the various superintendents all during the '90s was to de-urbanize the park.

  • 10:12:40

    MR. TOM DEPAULOThere are some 3,000 people that live in the park. There's schools, churches, warehouses, many urban issues. Outside the park was primarily federal land controlled by the forest service. We were asked according to their general plan to acquire what are known as in-holdings, which are private lands within the forest, and they are pristine, undisturbed lands, which the Forest Service would then exchange for primarily disturbed land adjacent to the community of Tusayan, and then over time, all the non-essential facilities and services in the park would relocate.

  • 10:13:20

    MR. TOM DEPAULOThere are six private homes, both in Tusayan and the park, for some almost 3,500, 4,000 people. If you lose your job, you lose your home. If you retire from years in the Park Service, and that's where your community fabric is, you have to leave the area. So it's primarily driven by residential and de-urbanization of the park. There was a planned staging area outside the park, where visitors who weren't staying in the park would leave their car and take a transit system into the park to better effectively manage the visitor.

  • 10:13:58

    MR. TOM DEPAULOThat went through a complex, eight-year environmental impact study. It was approved by the park, the forest. The county zoned the land, and the business communities that were fearful of competition because the project did include lodging, food and beverage, shops, got it on the ballot, overturned the zoning. That was in 2000.

  • 10:14:20

    MR. TOM DEPAULOWhat's important here is several things, and I couldn't agree more, to be on that river, and I've been down there 30 times, is the most amazing experience anyone can almost ever have. The good news is we don't want five million people on the river. It just could never accommodate that. In the '90s, Stilo arranged for what was done at the time, the most comprehensive hydrogeological study of that particular basin that had ever been done.

  • 10:14:56

    MR. TOM DEPAULOWe did plan, like everyone else up there has done historically, on using groundwater. The study -- and Bruce Babbitt was our attorney at the time, this was before he became Secretary of Interior. He introduced us to two companies that were reputable hydrogeologists, and the study clearly showed that when you use groundwater from the Redwall-Muav Aquifer, it clearly will affect some spring, seep or weep discharge in the park. And it's really fascinating, if you think of -- it's probably the only place in the world where you can see a slice of that. Basically that study showed that there was an impact, and that caused us to move away from groundwater, and we committed to not use groundwater under that EIS.

  • 10:15:45

    REHMHow much community support is there for the project that Stilo is planning?

  • 10:15:55

    DEPAULOWell, in Tusayan, there is tremendous support for, I would say, 75 percent, and we know that from various votes that have been held. Those are the people that lose their job in the off-season. They're the people that lose their home in 48 hours when they change jobs or lose jobs. Those are the people that are paying the highest price for gasoline anywhere in the state of Arizona and have to drive 78 miles to Flagstaff for what you and I may walk across the street to do. There's tremendous support there. There always has been support from the park. Up until recently, they considered us a partner.

  • 10:16:32

    REHMSo now?

  • 10:16:34

    DEPAULOI'd be very candid with you. It took me a year to even have a meeting with the superintendent. He just has different ideas than most of his predecessors, from Jack Davis to Rob Arnberger to Bob Chandler, all...

  • 10:16:50

    REHMDifferent ideas in what sense?

  • 10:16:54

    DEPAULOWell, they vehemently oppose any development outside the park. That's the only way to describe it.

  • 10:17:03

    REHMAnd Bob, are you feeling exactly the same way?

  • 10:17:09

    IRVINWe don't oppose the community of Tusayan, and we recognize that there may be development will occur, but what we're saying is before anyone embarks on that development, and in particular because to do this development, it requires permits from the Forest Service because the community is surrounded by the Kaibab National Forest, before any of that is done, you have to be able to demonstrate that you have a reliable water supply that is not going to impact the seeps, the springs, the waterfalls, the Colorado River itself, which is the lifeblood of Grand Canyon National Park, and that simply hasn't occurred yet.

  • 10:17:48

    REHMIt has not occurred yet. All right, we'll take a short break here. That was the voice of Bob Irvin. He is president of American Rivers. Short break here. Your calls will be incorporated into the program as we move forward. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:02

    REHMWe're talking in this hour about possible development of the areas near and within the Grand Canyon. I have an email here from Chris, who reminds us that Theodore Roosevelt said when he declared the Grand Canyon to be a national park, he said, quote, "leave it as it is, you cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children and for all those who come after you as the one great site which every American should see."

  • 10:20:56

    REHMWell, I must confess I personally have not seen the Grand Canyon, but joining us now is David Uberuaga. He is the superintendent of the Grand Canyon National Park. Welcome to you, sir.

  • 10:21:13

    MR. DAVID UBERUAGAWell, thank you, Diane, for engaging the public in this important dialogue to preserve and protect the Grand Canyon.

  • 10:21:20

    REHMIt is indeed important. Tell us what authority the National Park Service now has with respect to restricting or allowing new development in the Grand Canyon.

  • 10:21:37

    UBERUAGAWell, the American public has entrusted me with the stewardship of this park and its status as a World Heritage Site and one of the seven wonders of the world, and I take that responsibility very seriously. So specifically in the case of Tusayan development, the critical park resources that is in jeopardy is the water. It's the same aquifer that flows into the Grand Canyon and provides critical support for species found only here at Grand Canyon.

  • 10:22:07

    REHMSo in fact, Tom dePaulo, you said the same thing. You said that water resources there are clearly scarce. How will that affect your thinking?

  • 10:22:23

    DEPAULOWell, pardon me, it will affect us the same way it did in the '90s. We are working, and have been, and many people, including our critics, are aware of some pretty innovative alternatives to the use of groundwater. We've been criticized for something we haven't done, and for example within the last few weeks, I was able to show representatives from the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the superintendent a well that was being drilled that they weren't even aware of less than 20 miles from park.

  • 10:22:59

    REHMDave Uberuaga, can you respond to that?

  • 10:23:04

    UBERUAGAI'd like to, definitely. What I'd like to first clarify for the record is the things that Mr. dePaulo was speaking to were plans that were almost 25 years ago, and there's been significant changes, and the way he describes it would be incorrect in my opinion in terms of the vision and the collective wisdom at the table 25 years ago. The restrictions in development are the critical need in this particular area. There is a need for visitor services, but the way that Mr. dePaulo characterized it would be incorrect from the Park Service's perspective.

  • 10:23:45

    REHMNow tell me...

  • 10:23:48

    IRVINExcuse me, may I respond to that, please?

  • 10:23:49

    REHMCan the Park Service simply deny permission for any development to proceed?

  • 10:23:59

    UBERUAGAWell, Diane, one of my responsibilities is to inform the public about what is in jeopardy, and nature has no boundaries. The water flows into the Grand Canyon. The fact that it's outside of the park, as federal land managers, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation, as well, in terms of Escalade Project, have been directed through the World Heritage Commission to take guidance into consideration for any action on their land that could potentially jeopardize the World Heritage status.

  • 10:24:33

    REHMNow just to be clear, why don't you define the Escalade provision.

  • 10:24:40

    UBERUAGAThe Escalade, as Robert mentioned, is development on the east edge of Grand Canyon rim that's on Navajo Nation land, and the critical aspect (unintelligible) but the development as planned would include a tram to the bottom of Grand Canyon, which would trespass on National Park Service land at the confluence of the Little Colorado and the Colorado River. So critically for the control of the Park Service, it's the trespass issue with Escalade among a number of other respectful decisions that need to be made to the other tribes that would be impacted.

  • 10:25:20

    REHMAnd do I understand correctly that the Navajo tribe has, for the most part, agreed to the Escalade Project.

  • 10:25:34

    ROBERTSMay I interject here? I wrote an article about the Escalade for Smithsonian recently, and I think that's absolutely not true. The structural developers have claimed that the Navajo Nation is totally in favor of the Escalade, but the reality is exactly the opposite, and the new president, recently elected, is on record as opposing it.

  • 10:26:01

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:26:02

    ROBERTSAll over the reservation you'll find graffiti saying, save our sacred sites, stop the Escalade.

  • 10:26:11

    REHMAll right, and Bob Irvin, I know you want to jump in here.

  • 10:26:14

    IRVINWell, with regard to the Escalade Project, this has been a deeply divisive issue within the Navajo Nation, but fortunately the new chairman, just elected a couple months ago, has publicly stated that he is opposed to the project. And in addition, the Navajo Division of Natural Resources, which oversees all of the natural resources on the reservation, has informed the Navajo Council that the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers is a sacred site, and under what is essentially the constitution of the Navajo Nation, it's entitled to protection. And so these are all positive signs, and we're hopeful that this project won't be built, but the developer continues to advocate that it will be built, and so until it's a done deal, we're going to continue to alert the American people to it.

  • 10:27:05

    REHMAll right.

  • 10:27:05

    ROBERTSAnd it's also sacred to the Hopi, the Zuni and most of the Western Pueblos, as well as the Navajo.

  • 10:27:15

    REHMAll right, and let's turn now to Albert Hale. He is a spokesperson for the group seeking to develop that tramway. Am I correct, Albert Hale, that you're also a former president of the Navajo Nation?

  • 10:27:38

    MR. ALBERT HALEThat I am. I'm the former president of the Navajo Nation, served for four years in the early or mid-1990s.

  • 10:27:46

    REHMAnd you are in favor of developing this project?

  • 10:27:54

    HALEI'm very much in favor of developing the project, and if people can go out there, they can see the poverty level that the Navajo Nation is -- in that part of the nation and generally throughout the Navajo Nation are at. And the low income, the lack of jobs, the lack of economic development, the lack of adequate homes, no running water to homes, low electricity to homes, then you'll see that this project offers hope to the people who are in that type of desperate situation.

  • 10:28:26

    HALEAnd, you know, the -- I hear talk about the sacredness of the site, and we have accommodated that, and the plan for the project accommodates all the sacredness of the plan. And I heard earlier on that there is possibility of trespass, but if you look at the applicable laws, it says that Navajo people have exclusive right to use up to the high water mark. So that means down to the river, the high water mark, and the Escalade doesn't touch the confluence, as a lot of people seem to mistaken that it will. It doesn't touch the confluence. The walkway that is planned ends about 100 feet from the confluence. So in that way it respects the sacredness of that site.

  • 10:29:20

    REHMI understand. Dave Uberuaga, how do you respond to that?

  • 10:29:26

    UBERUAGAWell, I've worked my whole life with tribal nations in every park I've been at to help them with their economic development. We've been working specifically with a number of tribes on the east end of the park to provide a culturally sensitive, sustainable approach for economic development. There are a number of nonprofits that work with that tribe, as well, to help them in many ways.

  • 10:29:49

    UBERUAGASo I think its scale and location and promises that are not necessarily in sync with all of the Navajo people that I've talked to, and I've only met a few, a handful, actually, who are supportive of this project. And I want to work with the tribe in any way we can for economic development, but I feel that the scale and the location, not counting all the opposition from the other tribes, is something we all have to come to the table to talk about.

  • 10:30:18

    REHMThe other tribes, you're talking about not just the Navajo?

  • 10:30:23

    UBERUAGAYes, yes. There's -- the Navajo have agreements with the Hopi and the Zuni to protect sacred sites at this location, and that decree between these two tribes has been in place for a long time. And the Hopi and the Zuni have had unanimous council resolutions that oppose this development and have asked the Navajo Nation to come to the table to sit down with them to talk and...

  • 10:30:48

    REHMBut of course, Albert Hale is the former president of the Navajo Nation, who says that the Navajo Nation is behind this whole project. You're saying something different.

  • 10:31:03

    UBERUAGAWell, it hasn't even made it to the Navajo Nation Council yet, as even an initial proposal. So what I've experienced is the developer side of this, which is basically promoting something as if it is, when in fact it hasn't really initiated the actions within the tribe. And there are a number of steps within the tribal government that would help protect that site if they were not short-circuited.

  • 10:31:29

    REHMTom dePaulo, you might talk about the extent to which you have been in contact with members, not only of the Navajo Nations but the Hopi and others.

  • 10:31:45

    DEPAULOWell, certainly with the Navajo Nation, we've been in a great deal of contact, and I do want to clearly say that we have nothing to do with the Escalade. That's a totally different project, promoted by a different group.

  • 10:31:55

    REHMI understand, yes.

  • 10:31:58

    DEPAULOWe are working very closely with the Navajo particularly on water. Again back in the '90s, there were five tribes that supported the concept, and I agree with the superintendent to one extent, I disagree in another. Where we are in the process is where the very restrictions he referred to will be developed, through the NEPA process. That's what's taking place right now. That's probably a two-year process. They just...

  • 10:32:30

    REHMExplain that process.

  • 10:32:33

    DEPAULOWell, I hate to speak for the Forest Service, and it's a very complicated process, but basically whenever there's, as I understand it, a federal action, the first thing they do is they describe what is proposed. In this case, it's access to two of the properties from the state highway. They take public comment, and they advertise it to all the interested stakeholders. They take public comment, and then they will, over the next number of months, start to analyze those comments and come up with a list of what they judge needs to be addressed, various studies, reports, disclosure of direct and indirect impacts, potentially cumulative impacts.

  • 10:33:19

    DEPAULOAnd then depending upon how they judge the complexity of the process, they will then either put out a draft or a decision or a comment, but it's basically a public process.

  • 10:33:34

    REHMAll right, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Dave Uberuaga, at what stage of this process is the Forest Service or the Park Service?

  • 10:33:47

    UBERUAGAWell, we're a cooperator in the environmental reviews. They just had public scoping, which means here's the proposal, what is the initial reaction to the public, and we had over 200,000 comments submitted to the Forest Service, unprecedented in their history here in the area in terms of feedback. And the vast majority, other than the developer themselves, all of the rest of the comments were in opposition to that so far. And that's been widely known, and that's part of the controversy we're talking about today. This is not in the public's interest to jeopardize the Grand Canyon.

  • 10:34:32


  • 10:34:32

    HALEDiane, may I please respond to that?

  • 10:34:33

    REHMWhat have you heard and seen and felt as you've been out there?

  • 10:34:40

    IRVINWell, I've had the good fortune to have visited the Grand Canyon literally throughout my life. The first time I was there was when I was five years old with my parents. But it wasn't until 2013 that I had the opportunity to go on the river, and I spent 10 days floating the upper half of the Grand Canyon and actually stood at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers.

  • 10:35:04

    IRVINAnd it is no exaggeration to say it's a life-changing experience. You cannot fully appreciate what this magnificent natural wonder is like unless you've hiked it or been on the river. And when I hiked out of the canyon, up the Bright Angel Trail, through a place called Indian Gardens, it is this lush oasis surrounded by this very, very dry desert, and Indian Gardens is one of those places that depends on the groundwater, the seeps and the springs, and that's why it is so critical to make sure that nothing is allowed to deplete that because that is the lifeblood of the Grand Canyon.

  • 10:35:45

    REHMDave Uberuaga, I want to understand these separate projects and the extent to which the National Park Service is involved in one or all of them. Can you help clarify that for me?

  • 10:36:05

    UBERUAGAYes, so the -- both projects are outside the boundary of Grand Canyon National Park, but one of my roles is to inform and educate the public on any threats or actions that may actually cause harm to their national park and specifically trying to protect the visitor experience. So both of these, although they're right outside the park, have a direct impact on the visitor's experience and a direct impact on the park resources, specifically water, view sheds, soundscape, night sky, congestion. All these critical elements will jeopardize the visitor experience. And when I think of the development, I think of a handful of people who will benefit from this and, you know, five million for 100 years or five million for the next 20 million years, there's a lot of people who will have a different experience, a degraded experience, because of these developments.

  • 10:37:03

    REHMDave Uberuaga, he is the superintendent of the Grand Canyon National Park. I hope you and Albert Hale and all of other guests will stay with us. We're going to a short break, and then we'll take calls from our listeners. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about possible development in the Grand Canyon, and Tom, I know you wanted to jump in. Forgive me. Go right ahead.

  • 10:40:15

    DEPAULONo, that's fine, and I'm sorry to interrupt. But I do take exception to the comment about the comments. Those 200,000 comments and the last thing I want to do is denigrate anyone who has a legitimate concern about the issues, cause they're serious. But, they're form letters from three groups, and they primarily are fundraisers. And basically, the Forest Service will look at that form letter, and if there are eight legitimate issues, they will address eight issues. This isn't a numbers game. This is about serious challenges.

  • 10:40:51

    DEPAULOIn the '90s, the park and the forest identified major issues. What's happened since then, everything they didn't want to do. They built miles of roads in the park. Parking lots, hundreds of homes and apartments. The people are still coming, so what -- and where we evolved was with NRDC, NPCA, The Grand Canyon Trust. They are the co-developers. Everything we're planning was a result of the consensus of those groups. What's changed?

  • 10:41:22

    REHMAll right, let's pose your comments, questions to Dave Uberuaga. What about those letters, Dave?

  • 10:41:32

    UBERUAGAWell, they, as a recipient, when we were looking at the uranium withdrawal in and around the Grand Canyon, we had 300,000 comments from 50 countries around the world. And those comments are considered important to inform the US Forest Service on the significance and the relative importance to the public on this particular federal action. So, it set the tone that there are a number of people concerned about it. And the US Forest Service looks for substantive comments within those to help direct what will be the next steps.

  • 10:42:13

    UBERUAGAAnd all of those comments, the majority of those comments coming in, actually speak to the cumulative impacts of this federal action by the Forest Service. And that's really important to take into consideration, and that's really what they did. They said, they're compelling the Forest Service to look at this globally, look at this in a broader perspective than just a right away access to property outside of the town of Tusayan.

  • 10:42:40

    REHMAnd to you, Albert Hale. Here is an email from Jane, who says, "how do the people who live at the bottom of the Grand Canyon feel about the Tramway. Their opinion should be considered." She goes on to say, "personally, I have been to the Grand Canyon twice. Once in summer, once in winter, so I can tell you, it is as magnificent under snow as during the hot, bright summer. We can only cheapen the experience by crowding the area around it." So, Albert, to what extent have the people who live at the bottom been considered?

  • 10:43:31

    HALEThank you, Diane. That gives me an opportunity to address a number of other comments that have been made. Let me address the question that is raised by the listener. There is no one living down at the bottom of the canyon. So, they have not made any comments with regard to the project that is proposed. And this is the project that is on the Navajo Nation portion of the park. So, Navajo has jurisdiction over all these, all the land, and in terms of the comment that was made that the President has expressed opposition.

  • 10:44:14

    HALEThe council is the ultimate say in this project. So, there's an agreement that is moving forward to the council. And lastly is that there was a comment about a life changing experience and availability to people to experience that. The Escalade Projects provides experience to all, those who may be advanced in years or have physical handicap. Or use that -- are not able to get down and experience the canyon. Because right now, the only way you can get down the canyon and really experience it is by walking.

  • 10:45:01

    REHMI understand.

  • 10:45:01

    HALEOr by riding the donkey.

  • 10:45:03


  • 10:45:04

    HALEThis Escalade will now give that opportunity to expand that and enhance that experience and make that available to everybody. In addition to that, there will be...

  • 10:45:11

    REHMAll right, Bob Irving, you wanted to comment.

  • 10:45:14

    IRVINYeah, it's not quite correct to say that there aren't any people living at the bottom of the canyon. The Havasupai tribe lives at the bottom of the canyon. And the confluence is sacred, in their tradition, as well.

  • 10:45:26

    REHMHave they weighed in?

  • 10:45:28

    IRVINThe tribes, all of the tribes that have concerns about the sacred site have weighed in against this project. And even within the Navajo Nation, there are significant people who oppose this, including a group called Save the Confluence, which has been a real leader in this effort. I do want to say that no one is saying that there are not economic needs on the Navajo Reservation. And as the superintendent of the park said, there are efforts to work with the Navajo tribe and other tribes on sustainable economic development.

  • 10:46:05

    IRVINBut this project would literally destroy the very thing that people are coming to see, which is this magnificent spot in the Grand Canyon. And to build a gondola and to bring 10,000 people a day to that spot would take away the very essence of the experience that people are coming for.

  • 10:46:26

    REHMTom dePaulo, do you want to comment?

  • 10:46:30

    DEPAULOWell again, we have nothing to do with the Escalade. Our projects are eight miles from the rim. We don't see anything we're doing as causing additional people to come. It's just to help their experience be better, to be more competitive. Right now, you pay 34 dollars for a pizza in Tusayan and 18 dollars for a burrito. And ridiculous prices for gas, and quite frankly, overpriced hotels.

  • 10:47:01

    REHMAll right, Albert, I know you wanted to get in.

  • 10:47:06

    HALEI do. As I was stating earlier, this project, the Escalade Project, enhances the experience that we're talking about. And also provides competitiveness in terms of where the location is. And the access to the canyon by different segments of the population that I mentioned. Those who are unable to experience the canyon because of age or...

  • 10:47:37


  • 10:47:37

    HALE...or because of disability.

  • 10:47:38


  • 10:47:39

    HALENow, they have the ability to do that, and that's what we're trying to convey to people who are opposed to it. And in addition to that, we're trying to address the two concerns. One is the sacred site concern and as I stated earlier, the project doesn't touch the confluence itself. And in our review of the studies that have been done, the confluence itself is not listed as a sacred site. But we are willing to treat that as a sacred site, because I'm a Navajo, and I know the stories related to the sacred -- to that confluence.

  • 10:48:22

    REHMAll right. I do want to ask Dave Uberuaga about that question of access. Because it does seem an important way to provide means for the elderly, those who have difficulty walking, to make their way into the canyon. What about that?

  • 10:48:46

    UBERUAGAWell, Diane, if you look at it from any other place around the country, there are places where we -- some of us are not able to go. And this may be one of those, where you can access the river by raft. And there are a number of elderly folks every year that take that trip through the canyon. You can ride a donkey or mule down to the bottom, as well. But really, what it comes down to is we can't provide a full range of visitor experiences in every location. And we have to focus on what's the premiere experience.

  • 10:49:28

    UBERUAGAAnd for those less able, we have a number -- the whole rim on the south rim, there's miles, literally, of fully accessible paved trails where people can enjoy the Grand Canyon from the top. And I think that meeting that need and meeting it very well and maintaining that visitor experience is what we offer the public. We can't have every visitor have every aspect that they want to enjoy. And so, a tram to the bottom would be a desecration to this place.

  • 10:50:01

    REHMBob Irving.

  • 10:50:02

    IRVINThe superintendent is absolutely right. There are abundant opportunities for people of all different abilities to visit the Grand Canyon and to experience it in different ways. But we cannot destroy the very thing that people are coming to see, that more five million visitors from around the world are coming to. You know, really, we have to go back to what Teddy Roosevelt said. Leave it as it is if you cannot improve upon it.

  • 10:50:26

    REHMAll right, let's open the phones and go to Dave in Arlington, Virginia. You're on the air.

  • 10:50:35

    DAVEThank you, Diane. I appreciate the opportunity. Let me just say that 50 years ago, when I was 13 years old, I had the opportunity to go down the Grand Canyon on the river, and as Mr. Irving says, it was truly a life changing experience. But what I'm really calling about is as I was waiting to get on, I heard one of your guests comment in a way that tried to diminish the significance of, I believe the superintendent said 200,000 public comments that were received. And I just want to say, this is something I've been involved in, in the non-profit sector, for a couple of decades, since the advent of the internet.

  • 10:51:18

    DAVEAnd the advent of the internet has allowed the public, both going to federal agencies directly online, and through being associated with groups, not necessarily fundraisers, but being affiliated with organizations such as American Rivers or the American Rifle Association -- or the National Rifle Association, for example, to receive missives about issues that are very important to them, and then, in turn, to comment and sometimes, yes, these comments are akin to -- they're the same content, but they are a way for people to facilitate people's expressing their views and opinions on important public issues. And maybe Mr. Irving is able to refer to a law called the, I'm trying to think what it is, it's called the APA.

  • 10:52:12

    REHMAll right. You want to comment on that?

  • 10:52:15

    IRVINSure. You're testing my legal knowledge. It the Administrative Procedure Act. But it provides for the opportunity for the public to comment on federal decisions, like the decision whether to grant a special use permit for Tusayan.

  • 10:52:29

    REHMAll right. I want to go now to John in St. Louis, Missouri. Hi, you're on the air.

  • 10:52:37

    JOHNYes, hello, Diane.

  • 10:52:39


  • 10:52:39

    JOHNYeah, I am calling because I have been to the Grand Canyon many times. I've hiked down to the bottom in January five or six times with my brothers. And the canyon is overused right now. We go in January, partly because the use is so, is low at that time. Otherwise, the Grand Canyon is a very overused resource. And the idea of developing close to the canyon, even though it's eight miles away, brings more people and more pressure on that canyon. If the question revolves around water, water is probably the most critical thing there.

  • 10:53:15

    JOHNThe water in the Grand Canyon now, on the rim, comes from the Bright Angel Spring on the other side of the canyon, on the north rim. And it's very difficult to get the water there, so the idea of providing more water for more development in an area that doesn't need more pressure, development pressure, and impacting the water in a way that it diminishes the use of the canyon for all the other purposes, including its, you know, its wildlife support and so forth. That's -- it's a silly thing to do, and it's reasonable for the Forest Service and the Parks Service to oppose it.

  • 10:53:48

    REHMAll right. And you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Tom dePaulo, do you want to comment?

  • 10:53:58

    DEPAULOWell, yes, I would, please. Again, I think comments are important and they're welcomed. But when the solicitation of a comment provides misinformation -- they've said we're doing waterslides. Three million square feet of commercial -- none of which is true. So, when this solicitation is done in an alarmist fashion, fear mongering, I take exception to that. If they are truthful mailers, American Rivers was a supporter of this project in the '90s. We welcome -- we don't pretend to have all the answers.

  • 10:54:31

    DEPAULOThis is a compilation of people who know far more about the canyon than I do, and than we do, that resulted in what we're proposing today. And we're going to do it responsibly and thoughtfully.

  • 10:54:42

    REHMBob Irving, can you talk about the fact that American Rivers once supported this whole project?

  • 10:54:50

    IRVINWell, that long predates me leading this organization, and as the superintendent said, you know, the '90s were a long time ago. And we are finding out more about impacts on water every day. Just today, there was a study released by NASA that shows that around the world, two thirds of the world's aquifers are being oversubscribed. Meaning, we're taking more water out of them than is coming back in to replenish them. So, water is the key around the world, and certainly in the Grand Canyon.

  • 10:55:19

    IRVINAnd that's why we're saying, before this project gets approved, make sure you can show that there is a water supply that is not going to harm the canyon.

  • 10:55:29

    REHMDo you believe you can do that, Tom dePaulo?

  • 10:55:33

    DEPAULOWe absolutely do. And not only just is water scarce, we've got to learn, and that's what's beautiful about the canyon. When you have people in that environment, you have an opportunity to change the way they look at things. Sustainable development. Water harvesting, recharge and recovery. You know, if you look at the space shuttle, it's not like we send up cases of water every week. They are recycling that water, as is Catalina Island. You want to take that person, when they go home to Des Moines, Iowa, after a wonderful visit, you've changed their behavior.

  • 10:56:04

    REHMAll right, and to you, Dave Uberuaga for the last word. Do you think that the water issue can be resolved?

  • 10:56:16

    UBERUAGAThank you, Diane. When, currently, in that small town of Tusayan, which is about three blocks long and two blocks wide, there is actually water trucks to deliver water to that community and to those hotel operations, as we speak today. And that's the way it's been for years and years. And so, when we calculated the proposed full build out of the development, it looks like, with very conservative conservation water measures, it would still be a 400 percent increase in the consumption of that community.

  • 10:56:49

    UBERUAGAAnd those in the desert southwest, are things that we cannot accept and we have to figure out ways to protect what we do have. And not further jeopardize great resources.

  • 10:57:02

    REHMAll right. We'll have to leave it right there and watch very carefully as this discussion continues. Dave Uberuaga is superintendent of the Grand Canyon National Park. Albert Hale is spokesperson for the group seeking to develop the Escalade, a tramway. And Bob Irving is President of American Rivers. Tom dePaulo is spokesperson for the Stilo Group. Thank you all so much and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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