Loop 202 Protest

Joseph Perez speaks during the public policy meeting on the Loop 202 at 4545 East Chandler Blvd on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012.

[David Jolkovski/AFN]

The tribal council for the Gila River Indian Community is sending the GRIC Landowners initiative — which could move the Loop 202 Freeway off the Pecos Road Alignment — to be investigated by tribal police before it decides if the initiative will be accepted as is or go to a public vote.

The initiative, which would allow the freeway to go on privately owned allotted lands and not through South Mountain, was sent before the tribal council on Wednesday. During the Feb. 20 meeting some Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) members shared their concerns over the validity of the initiative, though specific issues were not immediately known.

“I’m not sure what specific issues came about or how many occurrences there were of those specific issues,” said Lori Riddle, an environmental activist fighting for the state to accept the “No Build” option for the freeway. “The recommendation from the Tribal Elections office did not include an approval. They just reported the numbers and that there were some issues. Those issues were indicated in the council’s individual packets.”

According to the GRIC constitution the council has 60 days to decide to accept the initiative as is or put it to a public vote among the tribe. The council voted unanimously to delay acceptance of the initiative pending the investigation.

“On Feb. 20, 2013, the Gila River Indian Community Council voted unanimously that the Community’s Police Department and the GRIC Internal Audit Department investigate allegations of misconduct involving the Land Owner Initiative related to the South Mountain Freeway Loop 202,” said a statement from the tribe. “The results of this investigation, expected to take 30 to 60 days, will be presented to the Council’s Legislative Standing Committee upon completion…

“This ballot measure is being watched closely by hundreds of members all across the Community. Only after the investigation, once all the facts are known, will a full and informed vote of the GRIC Community Council determine whether an election will be held.”

Joseph Perez, whose company Pangea has been helping facilitate the GRIC Landowners’ meetings, said challenging petitions is nothing new. The Landowners feel confident that their initiative is valid, as it was verified by the Tribal Elections office, and will go forward.

“Challenging petitions is an age-old campaign tactic whether one lives in Phoenix, Chandler, New York City or, apparently, our Community,” Perez said. “These tactics will be rejected for the sour grapes they are, knowing that the vast majority of our people favor the hope, jobs and revenues of the freeway on tribal land as opposed to getting only an environmental scar and no economic benefits if it is built through Ahwatukee.”

The GRIC Landowners have said they believe the state will not accept the “No Build” option for the freeway. They believe if the state does not have the option of placing the freeway extension on the reservation, they will build it down Pecos Road and destroy South Mountain.

A grassroots group of activists continue to fight for the state to choose “No Build.” They will host a benefit concert on Saturday to raise awareness for their cause. For more information on the group, visit nosouthmountainfreeway.wordpress.com.

“We’ve always said no, we will continue to say no,” said Michael Tashquinth, a District 6 community member. “That’s all the land we have left. We aren’t going to sell it or give it up. We’re going to hold onto it. We’re an island, but we will remain who we are. If we give up that land we give up our ancestors and all our family and that’s not what we’re supposed to do. No one owns the land. We are caretakers of the land.”

The Arizona Department of Transportation is expected to release its Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Pecos Road Alignment this year. For more information on the state’s process, visit southmountainfreeway.com.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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