Landowners of the Gila River Indian Community have filed an initiative with the Tribal Council to rescind the Feb. 7 vote and create a yes or no vote on a new path through the reservation.
In a press conference on Thursday, Joseph Perez, a partner in Pangea Development, announced two new options for the Loop 202 extension that would save most, if not all, of Ahwatukee Foothills and South Mountain, and place the Loop 202 extension on allotted Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) land.
Allotted land is land that is owned by individuals, not by the community. The individuals do not pay taxes on their land and they are free to develop it as they wish. Approximately 6,000 acres of land near Pecos Road are allotted, Perez said. Within that 6,000 acres there are approximately 3,250 landowners Pangea has been meeting with for years to bring economic development to the area.
“We have approximately 75 percent of the land area secured, in terms of a land owner within an allotment has agreed that they want to develop their land and move forward with development,” Perez said. “Pangea has signed over 1,200 individual land owners to the project development at this point. We are signing more on a continual basis.”
Pangea’s plan is to build a parkway on the allotted land that would work as an alternative route to the Pecos alignment. The exact placement of the parkway has not been decided, as that will have to be negotiated with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the landowners, but it is a different plan than the route that was voted on earlier this month. The Pangea parkway would go down the reservation on allotted lands and end at the foot of South Mountain, where allotted lands end. If the parkway is built the road would still have to continue and go north off tribal land and through a portion of South Mountain. Perez said the plan would save most, if not all of Ahwatukee.
The initiative that landowners in the area have put forth is asking the community for permission to continue the roadway west on community tribal land and avoid any destruction to South Mountain. Their initiative specifies that the state would have to pay a one-time payment of $2,000 to every registered tribal member, in addition to payments the state would make to landowners who own the allotted land, from the state’s savings from not going through the mountain. The state would also have to help mitigate traffic that may venture onto 51st Avenue by paying for speed bumps or signs as necessary. In addition, the state must provide “valuable replacement land to compensate the Tribe.”
Landowners are hoping to collect at least 700 signatures by April 1 to hold a vote on the initiative in June. Perez said Pangea already has a few entities interested in leasing land near the parkway.
Danelle Spring, a Gila River District 6 resident, said she’s skeptical of Pangea’s claims to have 75 percent of the landowners on board.
“We have already submitted requests to the Tribal Council asking them to investigate the way Pangea does things,” Spring said. “I don’t think they’ve been gathering the correct identification when they go out getting signatures. They can say what they say, but we will see what happens.”
Spring was one of many tribal members to show up at a meeting hosted by City Councilman Michael Nowakowski on Thursday night at Cesar Chavez High School. The meeting was meant to give Laveen residents an update from Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and ADOT on where the freeway stands in the process of being built.
During the meeting officials told residents that they were sure “no build” was not an option and that the freeway would be built on the Pecos Road alignment. They encouraged residents to stay tuned for the draft environmental impact study and the public meetings that would be held once it was released.
Nowakowski told residents he was a supporter of the freeway and asked them to sign a petition encouraging leaders to build the freeway quickly.
“Honestly, I think the meeting was disappointing,” said Jezz Putnam, who attended the meeting and encouraged residents to sign his petition against the freeway. “I think it’s truly unethical the way they handled the meeting, not informing residents of the negative impacts of the freeway. It’s really unfortunate what they did to the community members by not actually giving them a voice. I don’t think they fairly represented the people here. I think the people of Gila River proved ‘no build’ is an option. I think people need to get together and raise each other up and get their voices out there.”
As for the new initiative, Putnam said he thinks it’s ridiculous that some groups are trying to get the tribal community to vote again on a freeway they already said they do not want.
“How many times are they going to ask the community to approve something they said they don’t want?” Putnam asked.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or firstname.lastname@example.org