Agency gives closer look to development outside Grand Canyon

FILE - Drivers round the highway curve heading into Tusayan, Ariz,. Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. About 240 residents of Tusayan are registered to vote in the primary election that will decide the mayoral race Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca, File)

TUSAYAN (AP) — The public soon will have a chance to weigh in on a request for an easement that would pave the way for development in a tiny town outside the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

Tusayan’s economy and — to a big extent — its existence depend on the millions of people who drive through it every year on their way to the national park. An Italian real estate company has been seeking to capitalize on the tourist traffic for decades.

Its plans for hundreds of homes, hotels, a cultural center and commercial space in Tusayan are getting a closer look after the U.S. Forest Service agreed to conduct an environmental analysis.

“We’re happy to see we’re at least getting an opportunity to move forward here,” said Andy Jacobs, a spokesman for Stilo Development Group USA, the Italian real estate company.

Four years ago, the Kaibab National Forest rejected a proposal from Stilo and supported by the Tusayan Town Council for access to private parcels. Forest Supervisor Heather Provencio said at the time that the development would “substantially and adversely” affect the Grand Canyon and nearby tribal lands.

The developers reworked the proposal and pledged to decrease the density, realign roads, and ruled out groundwater for commercial spaces but not for residential use. Provencio has asked Stilo for more information on the water supply and sewage but agreed to move the request forward.

“These concerns, along with any others identified, will need to be addressed in detail during the evaluation of your application,” she wrote to the town and developers late last month.

Stilo has said it would truck in water for the commercial development. Environmental groups, like the Grand Canyon Trust, wants assurance that the development won’t affect the availability of water at the national park.

“This development could deplete seeps and springs within the canyon, and that’s our No. 1 concern,” said Travis Bruner, the group’s conservation director.

The Forest Service’s review could move along quicker after President Donald Trump rolled back federal environmental regulations earlier this year. The changes put a presumptive limit on page numbers and on the time it takes to conduct environmental reviews at between one and two years.

On average, reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act take four-and-a-half years and frequently are challenged in court, delaying projects, the administration has said.

Tusayan won’t be able to use 20 acres of land that Stilo donated to the town in exchange for annexing its properties unless the Forest Service agrees to the easement. The town had started an off-grid housing project on another parcel, but it was halted because Tusayan didn’t have authority to build in a flood plain. Mayor Craig Sanderson said the town is working on the needed studies.

Most of the housing in the town that has about 600 residents is company owned.

Incoming Tusayan Mayor Clarinda Vail has been a vocal opponent of the Stilo development. But she has said she will uphold any agreements made by the Tusayan Town Council.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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