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House OK’s bill to transfer land to Pascua Yaqui tribe for resort

WASHINGTON — The House approved a bill Tuesday to give 20 isolated acres of local and federal government land to the Pascua Yaqui tribe for use as part of its Casino del Sol resort in Tucson.

The land — one 10-acre parcel from the Tucson Unified School District and another from the Bureau of Land Management — will be used to develop a golf course for the casino on the reservation.

The bill originally called on the tribe to turn over some land in exchange to the school district for use as a transit center. But the BLM, which supported the bill, asked for several amendments that resulted in the amended bill not transferring any parcels to the school district at this time.

The bill’s backers decided it would be cleaner to split the swap in two, first giving land to the tribe and coming back later to get the school district the land it wants.

“The rest of it is going to be handled, but it’s going to be handled in a separate bill later. Today’s bill is just these two 10-acre parcels,” said Adam Sarvana, a spokesman for the lead sponsor of the bill, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson.

School officials were not concerned with the delay.

“It really makes us a more efficient operator,” said Bryant Nodine, planning program manager for the Tucson Unified School District.

“It releases two properties that we would have a hard time using because of access of the flood plains.”

Sarvana said the two parcels are completely surrounded by Pascua Yaqui tribal lands. Neither parcel that will be turned over to the tribe is necessary for the construction of the golf course, but Grijalva said the land would be of little value to the government if the tribe did not acquire and use it.

“This will make managing the land easier for the tribe,” Grijalva said Tuesday on the floor of the House.

“Without this legislation the tribe will have to design the around the parcels, slowing down the project and weakening economic development that will benefit the entire Pascua Yaqui community and the residents of Pima County,” he said.

The bill, which was co-sponsored by five other Arizona House members, passed without debate on a voice vote. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Nodine said the bill will ultimately be beneficial for both sides.

“We’re not really trading land, we’re asking Congress to shift the patent from the TUSD to the tribe,” he said.

When the deal is completed it will not “give us ownership, but it gives us the right to use it for education,” he said of the land the district will get.

Calls seeking comment from tribal officials were not returned Tuesday.