The proposed Loop 202 extension through Ahwatukee Foothills or the Gila River Indian Community would have destructive impacts on the land and the people, according to speakers at “The Price of Progress,” a panel discussion at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
The panel was put together by HEAT (Humanitarian and Environmental Action Team) and featured Lori Riddle of the Gila River Alliance for a Clean Environment, Shannon Rivers of Mesa Community College, Jezz Putnam of No South Mountain Freeway, and Dr. Gregory Swan of Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Each of the speakers gave a different perspective on why they got involved with the Loop 202 issue and why they are hoping for a “No Build” option. Representatives from the Gila River tribal government, Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) were not present at the event.
Riddle was raised on the reservation. She said her family was exposed to harsh chemicals over decades and she has seen the side effects last for years.
Putnam is a non-tribal member spreading information about the “No Build” alternative that he says is usually breezed over by MAG and ADOT. Putnam has compiled research that he says shows the tribe’s continued disapproval of the freeway ever since it was first thought up in 1985. He has a blog, nosouthmountainfreeway.wordpress.com, where he posts updates about the issue.
Rivers is a delegate of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The freeway would cut through South Mountain, which is sacred to the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC), or it would take away land from the people, which is also sacred, he said.
Swan spoke about pollution going to the poor. He referred to it as eco-apartheid. People in well-off areas have more control over where freeways are built.
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A group called GRIC Landowners believes that the state will not choose the “No Build” option. They are pushing for a new vote to have the freeway built on allotted lands on the reservation, instead of the Pecos Road alignment which would cut through South Mountain.
The Landowners have turned in the required signatures for a vote to take place on the reservation but are still waiting for the signatures to be verified. According to the GRIC constitution, the tribal council will have 60 days to accept the initiative or put it to a public vote. Tribal officials have said it may take four to six months to verify the signatures before the 60 days begins.
Currently MAG and ADOT are still working on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Once the DEIS is released, sometime in early 2013, the public will have 90 days to submit comments before MAG and ADOT start on the final Environmental Impact Statement.
Information on the freeway and the DEIS can be found at www.southmountainfreeway.com.
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