War over Escalade ends with Council’s ‘no’ vote

Signs opposing the confluence surround protestors at a table.

Navajo Times | Ravonelle Yazzie
Rita Bilagody, of Tuba City, collects petition signatures outside the Navajo Nation Council Chamber opposing the Grand Canyon Escalade bill on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017.


A years-long war ended when the 23rd Navajo Nation Council on Tuesday night voted two in favor and 16 opposed to kill the Escalade project.

The Council voted against the Grand Canyon Escalade legislation that would have authorized $65 million to build a tram to carry visitors to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, where a retail and a food complex would be located.

The moment the Council voted down the contentious bill, opponents of the project applauded. “For me and Renae (Yellowhorse), we automatically started crying,” said Sarana Riggs of the Grand Canyon Trust. “But with the crying, it turned into disbelief of what just happened.”

The Council, meeting in special session, took up the bill for the first time since Delegate Benjamin Bennett introduced it last year.

Bennett and Delegate Leonard Tsosie were the only two who voted in favor of the bill. Bennett and Tsosie also were the only two “yes” votes when the bill went through the Naabik’íyáti’ Committee in July, during which the committee voted 14-2 against the proposal.

Scottsdale, Arizona, developer R. Lamar Whitmer was the driving force behind the project. Whitmer has said the project would bring much-needed revenue to the Navajo Nation.

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Krista Allen

Krista Allen is a former reporter for The Navajo Times who is now a freelance writer.