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Updated Dec 6, 2012 - 12:10 pm

Grand Canyon development divides builder, Navajo

There’s tension in Northern Arizona over a proposed tourist attraction on the eastern edge of the Grand Canyon.

“It’s a 420-acre development,” said Lamar Whitmer of Confluence Partners, L.L.C., the company that would develop the Grand Canyon Escalade. “The primary will be a gondola tram that will take visitors from the rim of the canyon to the canyon floor.”

The project will also include a walkway and food pavilion at the bottom of the canyon, and hotels, restaurants (including fast food) and an R.V. park on the canyon rim.

The proposed project is near the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, but it’s a problem for Navajos.

“The medicine men do their prayers at the edge where the confluence is, where the waters overlap. It’s sacred to them,” said Franklin Martin of the group Save the Confluence.

The group’s Leonard Sloan said that there are things that “you can’t sacrifice,” and this area of the Grand Canyon is one of them.

“People who have never been out here have never seen the view from the canyon, what it means,” he said. “They’ve never seen it. That’s why they want to get rid of it.”

Sloan called the developers “greedy” and “money hungry people.”

“They want to take it,” he said. “That’s stupid.”

But Whitmer contends that it’s the Navajo Nation that will get the economic boost from Escalade.

“At build-out, we anticipate 2,000 direct jobs, and there will be a spinoff benefit of another 1,500 jobs,” he said. “The Navajo Nation will receive substantial revenue off of this.”

Whitmer estimated the economic boost to be around $160 million per year.

As for the project interfering with a “sacred” place, Whitmer said Escalante will have no access to the confluence of the rivers and will about three football fields away from it. He believes that this is no different than the area around Canyon de Chelly, where there has been development near a site that is also considered sacred.

Whitmer said his company is willing to work with the Navajos to address their concerns.

Confluence Partners hopes to have Grand Canyon Escalade operating by 2016.

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