A last-ditch effort to gain approval from the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) for the South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway to go on tribal land instead of down Pecos Road has failed.
The tribal council was told Wednesday that once fraudulent signatures were removed from the petition that would have rescinded the tribe’s earlier vote, there were not enough signatures to move forward.
Signatures for the petition were gathered by a group known as GRIC Landowners. The group owns allotted lands along the Pecos Road border and believe that allowing the freeway on tribal land would not only be an economic benefit for the tribe, but would be the only way to save South Mountain.
The tribe had a vote in February of 2012, asking community members if the freeway should be built on tribal land, off tribal land, or not at all. The “No Build” option won the most votes, but whether or not the freeway will be built is ultimately the decision of the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.
Because South Mountain is sacred to the GRIC, the Landowners decided to start a petition that would rescind the earlier vote and trigger a new one. This new vote would give the community only two options: yes or no.
More than 1,500 signatures were turned in to the tribal elections office in September of 2012. The Landowners believed more than 800 of those who signed the petition were registered voters and only 643 were needed to trigger a new election.
In February, the initiative was stalled as tribal police were asked to investigate claims of fraudulent signatures. Tribal police returned to the council and claimed there were some fraudulent signatures. Once those were taken out there were not enough signatures to make the petition valid, according to the tribal elections office.
Christi Perez, co-founder of Pangea Corporation, the company that has been helping facilitate the Landowner’s efforts, said the Landowners are questioning the validity of the results.
“The Landowners are confident there were enough signatures,” she said. “There were several reports given of the number of signatures validated and each were enough, except this latest number. We’re not sure where the Landowners can go from here, but we’ll investigate that.”
Community members fighting against the freeway and supporting a “No Build” option said they are pleased with the results.
“I’m pretty happy,” said Andrew Pedro, a Gila River Against the 202 member. “I’m just glad to see we’re one more step closer to defeating the freeway altogether. Hopefully, this continues on to have our tribal government pursue ‘No Build’ more than they already have.”