The Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) for the South Mountain Freeway was released on April 26, but as the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) continues to study putting the freeway down Pecos Road a group of Gila River Indian Community Landowners are stuck waiting for answers as their initiative — which could make it possible for the freeway to go on tribal land — is stalled by the Tribal Council.

The Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) voted in February of 2012 to support a “no build” option for the freeway but a group of landowners, who own allotted lands on the northern edge of the reservation, believe that the state will not opt for a “no build” option and will thereby build the freeway down Pecos Road and through South Mountain.

That’s why they started an initiative to have the results of the previous vote rescinded and a new vote put to the people, asking them whether they would approve putting the freeway on allotted lands and a portion of tribal land.

Volunteers collected the needed signatures and turned them over to the Tribal Elections Office on Sept. 27. The signatures were verified and turned over to council, and according to GRIC constitution the council should have had 60 days from that point to either accept the initiative as is or put it to a public vote in another 60 days. Instead, the initiative was stalled as tribal police were asked to investigate — over 30 to 60 days — allegations of possible fraud. That investigation should have been completed by April 22, according to the timeline set forth by council.

“If Tribal Council followed the constitution, the initiative would have been voted on by Jan. 25…,” said a statement from the Landowners. “Although Tribal Council acknowledged the verification of the signatures by the Tribal Elections Office, as they followed the approved verification procedures, Tribal Council denied the acceptance of the initiative and claimed that there was reason to suspect fraudulent activity related to the collection of petition signatures, even though the approved verification process (by Council) specifically covers fraud.”

GRIC Landowners have sent a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs asking them to get involved. Christi Perez, a partner in Pangea, a group facilitating the Landowner meetings and initiative and who also hopes to help develop the allotted land on the northern edge of the reservation, said investigators have told them that the investigation is complete and a report has been written.

It’s unclear what is keeping the initiative from moving forward, besides the Tribal Council. Though council acknowledged during a May 1 meeting that it had breached its own motion, the initiative was again tabled.

“Move the initiative forward and take it out of your hands and put it into the hands of the people, and let them vote,” said Joseph Perez, a community member and partner in Pangea Development, to the Tribal Council on Wednesday. “They beg for you to do that… The no-builders did everything they could and the Landowners have done all they can, and if you do not take action and the mountain is destroyed nobody will be to blame but you; this council.”

A statement from the tribe said that although the investigation was complete, the information was not presented to the council with sufficient time to be included in the May 1 meeting.

"Because this is such a sensitive issue and it is so important to so many Community members, the issue was tabled today to give all Council members the legally mandated time to review the information," the statement said.

A group of concerned community members sent a letter to the tribal government on Feb. 20, asking them to uphold the earlier vote to support the “no build” option and to investigate Pangea and the Landowners for possible fraud.

The group stated concerns over the wording of the initiative and the need for another vote.

“Pangea, in collaboration with the Landowners Association, has been on a manipulative mission to deceive the GRIC tribal members,” the letter said. “They have been using scare tactics and omission of facts to have the Loop 202 Freeway issue brought back to a vote of the community. We maintain that the ‘no build’ option of the freeway extension is federally mandated to exist in the ADOT study and we reserve the right to have that option acknowledge.”

The DEIS states several times that a possible freeway alternative on the reservation cannot be studied without approval from the tribe, and that approval has not been given.

The DEIS compares building the 202 extension with a “no build” option and recommends going forth with building, to help alleviate current and future congestion on Valley freeways, especially Interstate 10.

The DEIS is available for download at ADOT is currently accepting public comments on the DEIS.

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