Editor's note: This update includes comments from Grand Canyon Superintendent David Uberuaga, additional details from Forest Service letter to town of Tusayan.
Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent David Uberuaga on Friday praised a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to deny a permit for a development that could have placed more than 2,000 housing units roughly a mile from the park's South Rim.
“It's very good news," he said during a phone conversation. "I think this is an important decision point for the Forest Service and it protects the park, park resources and tribal lands, and the World Heritage status (of the park).
"I think if you look over history, there may be another effort to see what they can do. But I’m hopeful that this sends a good message to the public about the importance of protecting the park and other public land managers around the park contribute to that significantly," Superintendent Uberuaga said.
Opponents of the development proposed by Stilo Development Corp., an Italian business, had said that if it had been approved, the project would have brought roads, sewers and other utilities that would pave the way for the multinational developer to transform the 580-resident community of Tusayan, Ariz., from a small, quiet tourist town into a sprawling complex of high-end homes, retail stores, and restaurants only a mile from the park's boundary. The development would have threatened groundwater that feeds Grand Canyon's creeks, springs and seeps, endangering some of the park's most important and biodiverse wildlife habitat, they claimed.
"We heard only yesterday that they were going to put out a decision…that usually means that it’s going to be bad, when they wait until Friday afternoon," said Kevin Dahl, the Arizona program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association said Friday. "This is a welcome surprise."
Earlier Friday the Forest Service "notified the Town of Tusayan ... that its application for road and utility easements on National Forest System land was being returned and would not receive further evaluation and processing. The proposed project does not meet agency requirements for initial and second level screenings. Therefore, the Forest Service may not process such an application for authorization."
“Based on information received in the record, I have determined that the Tusayan proposal is deeply controversial, is opposed by local and national communities, would stress local and Park [Grand Canyon National Park] infrastructure, and have untold impacts to the surrounding Tribal and National Park lands,” wrote Kaibab Forest Supervisor Heather Provencio in a letter (attached below) to Tusayan officials. "The Forest Plan envisions management at a landscape-scale by taking an 'all-lands approach,' and specifies strategies to achieve the desired conditions and objections in the Plan, including working closely with partners and across administrative boundaries to meet common objectives. The development that would be enabled by authorization of the proposed use of NFS lands could substantially and adversely affect Tribal lands and the Grand Canyon National Park."
Forest Service planners last year said they had heard from more than 200,000 people opposed to the development plan. The outpouring of public opposition included business owners in Tusayan and nearby Flagstaff, a former Coconino County development director, a former Grand Canyon National Park superintendent, outdoor enthusiasts, and thousands of park visitors who want to keep the experience of visiting Grand Canyon unmarred by a massive commercial development, a news release said. The Department of the Interior had warned that the proposed development was raising international concerns over the potential harm to Grand Canyon, a World Heritage Site.
Commenters also noted that the project would increase car and plane traffic and light and noise pollution in Grand Canyon National Park. The National Park Service has called the project one of the biggest threats to the park in its nearly 100-year history.
“Expanding Tusayan was an ill-conceived idea and would have been a massive threat to one of our country’s crown jewels," Mr. Dahl said. "It would have threatened critical water resources, essential for the park’s fragile and ecologically important springs and side creeks, and would have posed serious harm to Havasu Creek with its famous turquoise waterfalls."
“This is a great day for Grand Canyon National Park, and those who love its stunning vistas, abundant wildlife, and rich cultural heritage. The Forest Service was right to say yes to the public interest by protecting one of the most awe-inspiring places on earth, and no to the bloated development plans that threatened the park,” added Ted Zukoski, Earthjustice attorney. “Stilo’s proposal endangers water, wildlife, and wilderness that make the Grand Canyon a landscape revered in America and around the world. We’ll absolutely be there to defend this important decision.”