Since 1983, the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) has voiced concerns about the proposed South Mountain Loop 202 freeway extension. The Loop 202 freeway would desecrate Muhadag Do’ag (South Mountain) and negatively impact the health and environment of the community. GRIC has two resolutions opposing the freeway and in 2007, the Community formally decreed Muhadag Do’ag to be a sacred cultural site.
In fall 2009, Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) approved to move forward on planning for the South Mountain extension of the Loop 202. This decision was made in spite of opposition from Gila River for over 25 years.
Soon after MAG’s decision to plan for the construction of the Loop 202 extension, former GRIC Governor Bill Rhodes sent a letter to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and ADOT, stating that the Community was open to considering the Loop 202 on tribal lands. This was done without the approval of GRIC tribal council, and went against the past NO BUILD resolutions.
Since then, GRIC has been pressured to build the Loop 202 within the boundaries of the Community. GRIC members have only been offered an on-reservation route and an off-reservation route. The NO BUILD option was not offered to GRIC members.
However, ADOT has stated in meetings with the Community and through its
South Mountain Freeway Library:
“GRIC has sole authority to decide if and where a freeway might be studied orbuilt on its land. Therefore, if an eastern preference must be identified without GRIC alternatives, options would include either the Pecos Road alignment or notbuilding the South Mountain Freeway. Not building a freeway remains an option. If this option is selected, the proposed project would not take place and the environmental effects from taking no action would be evaluated.”
The proposed routes are approximately one mile apart. Both proposed routes will negatively impact the health and environment of the west end of GRIC.
Federal mandates, such as the release of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from the Arizona Department of Transportation, have been skipped or severely delayed since the 1980’s. GRIC’s own transportation committee, the Transportation Technical Team, performed public outreach in which the NO BUILD outcome was not mentioned to the community.
Currently, voters in the GRIC will vote on the Loop 202 for the third time in twelve years, in a February 7th 202 referendum, without knowing the impacts it will have on the environment and the health of the community.
Too many agencies and people in positions of power are acting as though the construction of the Loop 202 extension is a done deal. It’s not. It’s still in the planning stages and can be stop, if we as O’odham come together to protect the mountain and community.