Joshua trees would be be impacted if road to Grand Canyon West is paved

Paving a road to Grand Canyon West on the Hualapai Indian Reservation could mean the removal of thousands of Joshua trees, according to a draft environmental study prepared by a federal agency.

However, many trees could be replanted elsewhere, and the paving would benefit the tribe and motorists by improving public safety and increasing the number of visitors to Grand Canyon West, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

"We look forward to improving this road and have it improved for public safety, and we fully support the economic development at Grand Canyon West for the Hualapai Tribe," said Don McClure, project leader for the Kingman office of the BLM.

The BLM is conducting an environmental impact statement on the proposed paving project because 11 miles of the 14-mile-long road would cross federal land administered by the BLM, according to McClure.

The agency released the draft EIS in June and expects to release the final EIS next spring, he said.

The BLM scheduled two public meetings on the issue on Dec.

8.

The first meeting will be held from 9 a.m.

to noon at the Meadview Chamber of Commerce at 28990 Pierce Ferry Road and the second from 1:30 p.m.

to 4:30 p.m.

at the VFW Post, 15943 Pierce Ferry Road, Dolan Springs.

Road construction could start within a year once the project is approved, McClure said.

The Hualapai Tribe proposed the road paving to increase the flow of visitors to Grand Canyon West, where the tribe offers a bus tour and serves a buffet.

The tribe is trying to raise $15 million for the paving from Mohave County, the state and federal government.

The road currently is traveled by 70 to 80 vehicles per day during the peak tourist season, according to the draft EIS executive summary.

The proposed road improvements would be designed to accommodate 475 vehicles per day, the estimated traffic volume generated by a hotel resort that the tribe envisions for Grand Canyon West.

"The tribe just wants it built," said Monza Honga, cultural resource director for the tribe.

"Any undertaking is going to have some adverse effect (on the environment)."

Various road alternatives explored by the BLM would result in the loss of Joshua trees in the Joshua Tree Forest-Grand Wash Cliffs Area of Critical Environmental Concern and the Grapevine Mesa Joshua Trees National Natural Landmark, the draft summary stated.

"Loss of the largest, most mature Joshua trees and associated native plants in the NNL is considered an irretrievable loss of a nationally significant resource," the summary stated.

One proposed route would affect 10,722 Joshua trees, but 10,186 of them could be salvaged, according to the draft report.

Another route would affect 14,412 Joshua trees, with 13,691 of them salvageable.

The BLM plans to salvage the trees by replanting them in a fire-scarred area a few miles from Diamond Bar Road, McClure said.

Asked whether nurseries could salvage the trees, he said, "We have not started exploring it yet, but it is definitely an option."

The effects on the Joshua trees, other plants, wildlife and historic sites would depend on the two alternative routes and the two variations on those alternative routes being studied by the BLM.

The roadway would consist of two lanes totaling 26 feet wide, with an eight-foot dirt shoulder on each side of the road, according to the BLM.

The speed limit would be 45 mph, and drop to 25 mph along a steep stretch under one option.

The BLM also proposes mitigation measures to lessen the environmental damage, such as fencing the right of way and installing guardrails that blend in with the landscape.