Last month, two Flagstaff businessmen traveled to Washington, D.C., to show their support for the proposed Greater Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument. “We went to Washington because usually it is the environmentalists who support this sort of thing. We wanted to show support from the business community,” said Robin Prema, owner of Speedi Car Wash, Super8 Motel on Old Route 66 and other properties around Flagstaff. “This is a different voice.”
Prema traveled with Ash Patel, CEO of Southwest Hospitality Management. Patel owns many hospitality businesses around Arizona, including the Flagstaff Holiday Inn Express. He is currently working on the new Hampton Inn and Suites and Fairfield Inn and Suites development on Country Club Drive.
“Our children are asking us to be more responsible and preserve natural areas for the citizens of the United States and the citizens of the world. The world has changed since I first came to Flagstaff in 1991. Uranium mining does no good. I don’t think there should be any uranium mining near the Grand Canyon,” explained Patel. “We need to protect not just the park, but around the park. What happens around the park, affects the park.”
“The Grand Canyon feeds the Northern Arizona economy. It is important to leave the Grand Canyon in its natural form rather than change it into a concrete jungle,” added Prema. Although the duo visited with lawmakers and administrators as person citizens, “We went with the support of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) and the Flagstaff Lodging and Restaurant Association (FLRA),” explained Patel, a past Chairman of the Board of AAHOA.
Other business leaders are not in support of the proposed national monument. Stewart McDaniel, vice president of government affairs, Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce points to two over-arching problems with the proposed 1.7 million-acre monument: losing state revenue and losing access to lands. “We can’t get tax money from federally-owned lands and we can’t control how the lands are used. In this proposed national monument, ranching and other actions will not be allowed. Ranchers are some of our best caretakers,” McDaniel said.
“We’re very thankful for the solid leadership of Congressman Paul Gosar, whose focus defeated Raul Grijalva’s Grand Canyon National Monument proposal, an enormous public land grab with huge consequences,” said Julie Pastrick, CEO of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber. The proposed monument is the size of the state of Delaware. President Obama could designate the area a national monument under the Antiquities Act.
In mid-July, Gosar defeated Grijalva’s amendment that would have removed a Gosar-sponsored provision that prohibits funding to make a presidential declaration of a national monument where there is significant local opposition. A recent poll found that 71.6 percent of Arizonans are opposed to the proposed administrative designation of 1.7 million acres in Northern Arizona as a National Monument. The poll was conducted by Coleman Dahm and Associates for Americans for Responsible Recreational Access.
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access Executive Director Larry Smith said in a press release, “This new poll underscores what we really already knew – the people of Arizona want to protect public lands, but they want to have a meaningful say in how the lands are protected. Unilateral action by the administration takes away their voice and creates resentment. The administration should listen to the people and work collaboratively with them to manage these lands instead of imposing draconian restrictions to appease a narrow group of interests.”
Yet, proponents of the designation turn to another poll that says Arizonans are in favor of the monument. In a blog post on the Grand Canyon Trust website, Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Program Director states, “Eighty percent of 500 voters surveyed support the establishment of the Greater Grand Canyon National Heritage Monument. More than eight times as many voters strongly support the monument [58 percent] as strongly oppose it [7 percent].” The poll was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates in January 2016.
“Eighty percent of Arizona people support the proposed National Monument. If that is the case, why aren’t the politicians behind it?” asked Prema, who is also the interim president of Flagstaff Lodging and Restaurant Association (FLRA).
Gosar explained in a press release: “This proposed 1.7 million acre land grab would undermine the Four Forest Restoration Initiative Program and make Arizona more vulnerable to wildfires. Attorneys have testified that this proposed monument could tie up future surface water use and future groundwater use. The proposed monument also includes 64,000 acres of Arizona State Trust lands and almost 28,000 acres of private land.”
Opponents also call attention to the fact that National Monument designations under the Antiquities Act typically have significant consequences that negatively affect grazing rights, water rights, wildfire prevention, and other land management activities. These declarations also result in restrictive land-use regulations and also impact hunting, fishing, Off Highway Vehicles (OHV) and other recreational activities.
“The state government can manage our lands better than the federal government,” argued McDaniel, citing the recent toxic waste spill at the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency into Western rivers, including the Animas River in Colorado.
The Arizona Chamber Foundation also came out against the proposed monument, stating, “Given the disappointing mismanagement of important western issues, it is clear that Washington, on its own, is not the best steward of Arizona’s land and natural resources. But should the monument designation proceed, the Department of Interior – based in Washington – would obtain exclusive control of the area within the monument designation.”
“This is not a partisan issue, it is a citizen issue,” said proponent Patel. The Flagstaff Lodging and Restaurant Association has supported the proposed monument for some time. A letter from then Chairman Ruben Abeyta informed its members earlier this year: “A monument designation will shift focus from extraction of uranium and timber to protecting cultural, recreational and wildlife values. It creates an expectation on the local and national level for better protection of public lands around the Grand Canyon.”
“We’re hoping that when the president looks at the options that are on his desk, that the Grand Canyon would be at the top of his list,” concluded Patel. FBN
By Stacey Wittig, FBN