October 17, 2012
For immediate release
Pangea continues to push for Loop 202, while GRIC leadership sits on the sidelines
Community members wonder why No Build vote is being ignored
Sacaton, AZ- On February 7, 2012, the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) celebrated a major milestone for the protection of sacred sites, the environment, and community health with a 720 to 603 vote for the No Build option in the community-wide single-issue vote regarding the proposed South Mountain Loop 202 freeway extension. The No Build ballot option allowed GRIC to advocate for the freeway extension to not be built at all. The No Build victory also ensured the freeway would not be built within the GRIC boundaries. Despite the community’s majority No Build stance, pro-freeway supporters continue to disregard the community’s voice and future by pushing for the Loop 202 freeway to be built on tribal lands. Today’s GRIC tribal council meeting will once again be the battleground over the proposed Loop 202 freeway extension.
For the past month, Tempe-based land development corporation Pangea, LLC, and the Pecos Landowners Association (PLA), have been endorsing an initiative for yet another vote on the Loop 202, and for a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) granting Pangea and its investors the exclusive rights to develop tribal lands on the western end of GRIC, with the approval of the GRIC Legislative Standing Committee (LSC) and tribal council.
On September 12, Pangea and PLA collectively submitted the new voting initiative and MOU as a joint item at LSC. Both were sent to GRIC tribal council September 19, where it was recommended that the item be split into two separate items, and which was sent back to LSC. On September 26, Joey Perez of Pangea resubmitted the MOU to LSC, and on September 27, PLA submitted the signatures on their pro-freeway initiative to GRIC Community Council Secretary’s Office (CCSO).
While the signatures on the initiative for another Loop 202 vote have yet to be verified by the GRIC CCSO, both Pangea and the PLA continue to ask GRIC council members to speed up the process of signature verification, despite ongoing concerns regarding how the corporation obtained signatures with cash payments. Other questions about the legitimacy of its campaign have yet to be answered. Several families have stated that a Pangea representative got their signatures by deception; saying the initiative was to collect signatures for a No Build option. In another family, an elder suffering from senile dementia signed away her lands to Pangea when she was home alone.
The PLA and Pangea have been misleading landowners in effort to have the No Build vote rescinded, effectively bringing the on-reservation freeway alignment back on the table. In exchange for landowner consent, Pangea claims they will provide immediate and long-term lease payments to landowners from the profits generated by projects, such the master-planned City Concept proposed for ands south of Ahwatukee. Gila River landowners have also been targeted by the Pangea corporation with ‘good-faith’ payments of $50 for their consent signatures and have been bribed to attend tribal government meetings with $500 raffle prizes, in which a landowner’s chances of winning increase for every tribal government meeting attended by landowners. In addition, Pangea has adopted a misinformation campaign that downplays the negative health impacts of the freeway, and which makes no mention of the destruction of traditional cultural properties that are in the path of the freeway and the Pangea City Concept.
Pangea and the freeway supporters deceive members of GRIC when they say that the freeway will be built, regardless of what Gila River has voted in the past. The No Build option for the freeway is an option that is federally mandated to be considered and assessed by the Federal Highways Administration. In addition, until the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding the proposed freeway extension is released in 2013, no state or federal agency, including tribal government, can move forward on approving any route of the proposed freeway. Private corporations, such as Pangea, cannot approve routes of publicly funded freeways. The power to approve or reject the freeway lies in the people of Gila River, who would be affected by the freeway. The EIS is a document that is required by law to be written and researched when a federally funded project impacts the environment, and once the EIS is released, if ten or more Gila River residents request a hearing to voice their concerns, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has to hold public hearings in Gila River, as part of a formal process to address those concerns. This is when the freeway can be stopped.
Additionally, concerns raised before the February 2012 vote regarding the proposed freeway’s overall impacts have been dismissed by the Pangea corporation and by the PLA. In particular, the impact the proposed freeway would have on Muhadag Do’ag (South Mountain), which is a sacred site for all the O’odham tribes, has been downplayed by Pangea. The company’s campaign to “Save the Mountain” ignores the fact that by building the City Concept at the mountain’s base the cultural practices of the Gila River people will effectively end.
Despite serious concerns raised by GRIC members, the tribal council and Governor Greg Mendoza have not taken an active role in investigating Pangea or the PLA’s questionable methods of gathering initiative signatures. By considering yet another vote to rescind a previous vote from less than ten months ago, GRIC leadership has not supported last February’s No Build victory. In response, No Build supporters made up of District 6 residents, grassroots groups such as Gila River Against Loop 202 (GRAL202), Gila River Alliance for Clean Environment (GRACE), and other GRIC members have called for transparency and accountability from both Pangea and the PLA, as well as from the GRIC tribal council and Governor Mendoza.
At the time of the February vote, the sitting Tempe Mayor and Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) Chair Hugh Hallman was forced to admit that the grassroots push to get the No Build option recognized was effective. In a statement by Hallman the day following the February vote, he conceded that “this vote is a significant milestone in the process and allows us to focus our efforts now exclusively on the Pecos Road alignment. The no-build option is also an alternative.”
When politicians from the city can admit that No Build remains an alternative to the freeway, it is no wonder that concerned GRIC members are asking why the tribal leadership has yet to commit GRIC’s sovereign powers to protect Muhadag Do’ag, the environment, and the community’s health. Where is the transparency and leadership that Governor Greg Mendoza ran his campaign on? Why is tribal council not fighting for their constituents who voted for the successful No Build option?
The demand for GRIC tribal leadership to uphold No Build as the voice of the community was made clear last February with the No Build victory, because the people know that not building the freeway is the only alternative which will protect Muhadag Do’ag, the environment, and community health.
Today’s tribal council meeting will once again give GRIC tribal officials the opportunity to hold Pangea and the PLA accountable to its illegitimate campaign. Today, our tribal leadership has another opportunity to work for the people, not for a land development corporation, by reaffirming the No Build voice of GRIC members.