Indian tribe, developer in tug-of-war over Grand Canyon Skywalk

Mon Mar 19, 2012 11:26am EDT
 
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By Cynthia Johnston

GRAND CANYON WEST, Arizona (Reuters) - As the muddy Colorado River flows in the plunging depths below, tourists gingerly step onto a glass walkway jutting out over the rim of the Grand Canyon for an experience that gives the illusion of walking on air.

Some pose with arms outstretched for pictures while others ease over a horseshoe-shaped skywalk that is the subject of a bitter tug-of-war between an Arizona Indian tribe on whose ancestral land it was constructed and a developer who spent at least $30 million to build it.

The tiny Hualapai nation, in a bold move that could serve as a test of the limits of the sovereign power of Native American tribes over non-members, exercised its right of eminent domain last month to take over the management of the site and kick out the non-Indian developer.

The dispute over the potentially lucrative Skywalk -- which all agree could draw up to 3,000 visitors a day -- pits the tribe's sovereign rights over a site it sees as its economic lifeblood against a developer's contractual right to manage the attraction for 25 years and share the profits.

"We've made this decision, and we've done it for what's in the best interests of the people," said Candida Hunter, 32, a member of the Hualapai Tribal Council who voted to take over the Skywalk as the dispute dragged on, abandoning a contract-mandated arbitration process.

"We've been in negotiations with them, we've tried to work with them. It was our last option really," she said of the seizure. "We just need to move forward now."

The dispute at the heart of the crisis appears to center on specifications including who was supposed to provide infrastructure -- power, water and sewer -- for the project, with both sides accusing the other of acting in bad faith.

What is not in dispute is that a visitors' center overlooking the Skywalk -- a beautiful building on the edge of the canyon with floor-to-ceiling windows where a restaurant might have been -- is nothing but a shell.   Continued...

 
Visitors have a view to the Grand Canyon below from a glass skywalk overlooking the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, Arizona February 28, 2012. The tiny Hualapai nation, in a bold move that could serve as a test of the limits of the sovereign power of Native American tribes over non-members, exercised its right of eminent domain last month to take over the management of the site and kick out the non-Indian developer. The dispute over the potentially lucrative Skywalk -- which all agree could draw up to 3,000 visitors a day -- pits the tribe's sovereign rights over a site it sees as its economic lifeblood against a developer's contractual right to manage the attraction for 25 years and share the profits. Picture taken February 28. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith