Jin, Hualapais head to arbitration

KINGMAN - Things continue to simmer in the legal dispute between Grand Canyon Skywalk developer David Jin and the Hualapai Tribe. A status hearing will be held in Hualapai Tribal Court today to set a date for an arbitration hearing between the two parties.

The Skywalk is a $30 million, glass-bottomed bridge that juts out 4,000 feet above the Grand Canyon on Hualapai Tribal land. Jin and the Hualapai Tribal Council entered into a contract to build it in 2003.

According to the contract, Jin was supposed to pay for the construction of the Skywalk and the visitor's center. In order to recoup his costs, he would manage the facility for the next 25 years and split the profits with the council's Skywalk management group, Sa' Nyu Wa.

Jin claims the tribe has not paid him his fair share of the profits, and the tribe is trying to run him out of business so that it can take over the Skywalk contract through eminent domain.

He filed an injunction in federal court on March 30 to prevent the tribal council from taking over the contract by passing an eminent domain ordinance.

The council passed the ordinance in April. The court denied Jin's request saying it could nothing until the council actually attempted to take over the contract.

Tribal officials say that Jin is getting all of the money he is entitled to. They say that Jin has failed to live up to his end of the agreement. The glass bridge was finished and opened in 2007, but the Skywalk visitor center remains unfinished. They say the unfinished building is having a negative impact on visitor traffic to the site.

In court documents responding to Jin's federal injunction, tribal officials say the tribal council, just like any other sovereign entity, has the right to take things or contracts over by eminent domain. The ordinance is designed to ensure that people who have their land, items or contracts taken over are compensated.

In April, they also requested that the federal court stay or dismiss any further action on the case until it is settled in the tribal court, since it has jurisdiction in the case.

Not allowing the tribal court to rule on the issue first would be a violation of the tribe's sovereignty and federal policies concerning tribal self-governance.

They also point out that the contract requires arbitration take place in tribal court.

In court documents, Jin claims that the tribal court does not have jurisdiction over him because he is not a member of the tribe, and the tribe cannot take over a contract because it is not tangible property.

He also points to several emails and council meeting minutes as proof that the tribe is preventing him from finishing the visitor center, including a stop-work order issued by the tribe and a statement by one tribal member that a finished visitor center might take away from the tribe's food and gift sales.

Jin doubts the tribe could give him the fair market value of the contract, which he believes is around $100 million, or that it would pass a vote of the people.

According to tribal ordinances, council must put any sale or purchase of more than $50,000 to a vote of the people.

The tribe has requested that Jin reveal how he gained access to minutes from the council's executive sessions and confidential documents.

The federal judge has yet to rule on the tribe's request to stay or dismiss the case.