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Updated Feb 28, 2014 - 5:42 pm

Tiny town outside Grand Canyon outlines its future

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A tiny town that credits its existence to the Grand
Canyon has put together a 10-year wish list of sorts for recreation, public
services, transportation and development.

But it’s what is not in Tusayan’s general plan that has drawn the criticism of
its neighbors — a water source for growth.

Gone are the days when collecting rain water and snow melt met the needs of
farmers and ranchers just outside the canyon’s South Rim, with water hauling
meeting additional demands. The hundreds of residents of Tusayan now rely on
wells, but officials at the Grand Canyon, American Indian tribes and
environmentalists say additional pumping could harm seeps and springs in the

The Italian company proposing the majority of growth in Tusayan hasn’t said
exactly what water source it will use to support a dude ranch, high-end
boutiques, five-star hotels, hundreds of homes and a high-density shopping area
off the highway that takes most visitors to the Grand Canyon. Stilo Development
Group USA spokesman Andy Jacobs said Friday that those plans won’t come to full
fruition for years or even decades.

“We certainly understand that water is a scarce resource in that area, so we
don’t think anybody is overly concerned about where we’re getting our water,”
he said. “It’s an important issue. We’re doing due diligence to try to do the
right thing on water. The criticism may be overly harsh when we haven’t made a
decision yet.”

The Tusayan Planning and Zoning Commission closed out the public comment period
on the general plan this week. In its comments, the National Park Service
predicted that Tusayan’s water use would nearly quadruple over the next decade,
from 175 acre-feet per year to 681 acre-feet per year, under development cited
in the plan. That includes 142 acres of commercial development, 1,874
multi-family dwellings, 543 single-family dwellings and 300 dormitories.

The Grand Canyon’s chief of resource management, Martha Hahn, said along with
an unidentified water resource and development that doesn’t mesh with the
surrounding environment, the park is concerned about an increase of visitors
that would further strain its resources.

“That’s not to say we don’t want more visitors, but this concentration of
visitors and increase is not really well thought out,” she said. “The question
is ‘Why would you want that?’ And the answer is for economic gain. Are you
really the gateway for visitation to the park or are you providing for personal

Tusayan became one of Arizona’s smallest towns in 2010 under a state law that
gives communities of at least 500 people that are within 10 miles of a national
park or monument the chance to incorporate. The driving force behind the change
in law was a lack of housing for a largely transient population.

The companies that run the hotels and feed the tourists own the homes in the
town that is landlocked by the Kaibab National Forest and Grand Canyon National

Town manager Will Wright said the general plan isn’t meant to go into detail
about water sources. The town isn’t sure where developers will get water either,
but Wright said development won’t be allowed to move forward without an
assurance that it won’t severely impact the Grand Canyon.

“We’re here to provide necessary services for those wanting to visit the Grand
Canyon,” he said. “If the Grand Canyon were damaged in any way, we’d be
shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Jacobs said Stilo prefers not to drill wells but hasn’t ruled out that
possibility. He said developers also have talked about transporting Colorado
River water through a coal slurry line that ran from the Black Mesa Mine near
Kayenta on the Navajo Nation to the shuttered Mohave Generating Station in
Laughlin, Nev., and or piping it in. He said developers are in talks with water
rights holders.

As for the massive development, the Town Council recently approved an amendment
to the agreement with Stilo that requires the town to apply for access to
Stilo’s property nestled in the forest. Stilo is approaching a deadline to turn
over 20 acres of land to the town for housing.

The amendments came after Stilo defaulted on the original agreement.


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