June 1, 2015
Kaibab National Forest
Williams Ranger District
742 S. Clover Road
Williams, AZ 86046
Re: Tusayan Roadway Easements
Dear Ms. McLaughlin:
I am writing to you on behalf of over 1,070 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition), who collectively represent more than 30,000 years of national park management experience. The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System. We are writing to provide comments on the proposed Tusayan Roadway Easements.
As described in the scoping package for the project, the Kaibab National Forest (KNF) has received a special use permit application from the Town of Tusayan (Town) requesting roadway and utility easements on property managed by the KNF within the Tusayan Ranger District. The easements, if approved, would allow the Town to improve segments of existing forest roads, construct new segments to provide all weather access, and construct sewer and water lines to two inholding properties that are within the incorporated limits of the Town while also surrounded by KNF land. The Town is the applicant and would hold the easements sought in the special use permit application. The two in-holding properties are Kotzin Ranch, which includes land owned by the Town and Stilo Development Group (Stilo), and Ten-X, which is wholly owned by Stilo. The action proposed by KNF is to approve the transportation and utility easements to allow the improvements to segments of existing forest roads and construct new segments to the two in-holding properties.
Surprisingly not stated in the KNF scoping package is the fact that the proposed easements and subsequent road and utility improvements would enable Stilo to construct a massive resort development near the southern edge of Grand Canyon National Park (GRCA). In 2014, Tusayan adopted a plan that permits up to 2,176 dwelling units, and more than 120 acres of commercial development, totaling 3 million square feet, on the two inholding properties, nearly doubling the town’s developed footprint. For a description of the planned development, see the Stilo website at: http://www.gruppostilousa.it/UNITED_STATES.html
While there are a variety of potential adverse impacts of the proposed action on KNF lands, we will focus our concerns on potential adverse impacts to the resources and values managed by the National Park Service (NPS) within GRCA. Carved out by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon (nearly 1,500 m deep) is widely considered to be the most spectacular gorge in the world. Its vastness is stunning and the evidence it reveals about the earth’s geologic history is invaluable. The park’s diverse topography has resulted in equally diverse ecosystems, with relatively undisturbed remnants of dwindling ecosystems (such as boreal forest and desert riparian communities), and numerous endemic, rare or endangered plant and animal species. First afforded Federal protection in 1893 as a Forest Reserve and later as a National Monument, Grand Canyon achieved National Park status in 1919, three years after the creation of the NPS. Because of its superlative natural and cultural resources, GRCA was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1979.
The fundamental purpose of the National Park System and the parks within it, as established by the NPS Organic Act of 1916 (16 USC § 1, et seq.) and reaffirmed by the General Authorities Act (16 U.S. Code § 1a–1), begins with a mandate to conserve park resources and values. The fundamental purpose of all parks also includes providing for the enjoyment of park resources and values by the people of the United States. The enjoyment that is contemplated by the statute is broad; it is the enjoyment of all the people of the United States and includes enjoyment both by people who visit parks and by those who appreciate them from afar. It also includes deriving benefit (including scientific knowledge) and inspiration from parks, as well as other forms of enjoyment and inspiration. Congress, recognizing that the enjoyment by future generations of the national parks can be ensured only if the superb quality of park resources and values is left unimpaired, has provided that when there is a conflict between conserving resources and values and providing for enjoyment of them, conservation is to be predominant. This is how courts have consistently interpreted the Organic Act.
Today GRCA receives close to five million visitors each year, most of whom visit the South Rim not far from the proposed development. Given the current absence of development on the two inholdings not far from GRCA’s southern boundary that would become heavily developed if KNF were to grant the proposed easements, there is no doubt that there is high potential for the proposed action to result in significant adverse impacts to a wide variety of protected resources and values within GRCA. Of utmost concern is the potentially extensive groundwater withdrawal necessary to support the proposed level of development and use of the two inholdings. The same acquifer that provides drinking water to Tusayan, and would presumably supply water to the Stilo development, also feeds ecologically and culturally important springs within GRCA. Other potential adverse impacts to the park include significant increases in traffic, congestion, noise, and light pollution, which could adversely impact a variety of park resources such as wildlife, soundscape, and night skies, as well as affect the future cost of park operations. Collectively, these potential impacts could ultimately affect the experience of millions of park visitors of both current and future generations.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Forest Service’s NEPA implementing regulations (36 CFR Part 220) require KNF to analyze the full range of impacts of the roadway easements on the environment. It is clear that such impacts will likely go far beyond the limited, localized and temporary impacts that may be caused by road construction activity and utility installation. Granting of the easements, as proposed by KNF, will invariably lead to a progression of much more significant and wide-ranging impacts caused by the Stilo development as it is implemented over the course of many years. An adequate analysis of the potential impacts to the acquifer alone requires extensive scientific data collection and modeling. The many other potential impacts would require detailed analysis as well. As a result, the appropriate level of NEPA analysis for the proposed action clearly is an environmental impact statement (EIS), not an environmental assessment (EA) as suggested in the scoping package. Furthermore, the proposed development is highly controversial on a national scale, as indicated by recent articles in the L.A. Times, New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and numerous other publications, which lends further weight to the need for KNF to prepare an EIS.
Related to the need to prepare an EIS is the clear need to involve other affected agencies from the beginning of the KNF planning process. There is no mention of the designation of cooperating agencies in the KNF scoping package. Under the NPS Organic Act and GRCA’s enabling legislation and subsequent amendments (16 USC Chapter 1, Subchapter XXIV, §§ 221-228j), NPS is the Federal agency with the responsibility, jurisdiction, and expertise to manage and conserve the resources and values within GRCA that could be adversely impacted if KNF grants the easement as proposed. Therefore, for this project KNF should designate NPS as a cooperating agency, as defined in Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) NEPA regulations (40 CFR 1508.5) and consistent with the cooperating agency guidance described in the Forest Service NEPA Handbook (FSH 1909.15 – Chapter 10).
In closing, the Coalition has numerous concerns about the high potential for KNF’s proposed action to cause significant adverse impacts to a variety of natural and cultural resources, not only on KNF but also on adjacent lands under the jurisdiction of NPS. We urge KNF to conduct a thorough environmental analysis, in the form of an EIS, of the full range of potential impacts; and to include both NPS in the planning process as a cooperating agency. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
Chair, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Mailing: 5625 North Wilmot Road, Tucson, AZ 85750-1216