KINGMAN - Grand Canyon Ranch owner Nigel Turner was arrested on misdemeanor charges of threatening and intimidating Tuesday afternoon after he allegedly threatened a construction worker improving Diamond Bar Road, according to the Mohave County Sheriff's Office.
Turner closed the road to all tourist traffic around noon on Tuesday. He vowed to keep the one-mile section of the main route to the Grand Canyon Skywalk that crosses his property shut down until the Hualapai Tribe orders a contractor to remove road construction equipment from his property.
Part of Diamond Bar Road runs through Grand Canyon Ranch, a working ranch Turner owns that draws tourists from around the world.
The Hualapai Tribe has been fighting with Turner over improvements to the road since 2003 and has voiced its displeasure over Turner's efforts to close the road and collect tolls from visitors.
"It's unimaginable that a local ranch owner - whose business is based entirely around tourism - would shut down a public road and ruin vacations for thousands of people," said Dave Cieslak, a spokesman for the tribe. He called the decision "shocking" and said it only "serves to hurt families who come from around the world to visit the Grand Canyon." said Hualapai Tribe Spokesman Dave Cieslak.
Turner said he wants the Hualapai Tribe to order their contractor, Fann Construction, to remove its equipment from his land to make sure that the tribe doesn't try to bulldoze a dirt road through while the two sides hash out their disagreement in mediation talks.
Both sides met for eight hours in Phoenix on Thursday, but the talks didn't come too much, according to Turner. He's asking the federal government for a 30-day moratorium on all work on the new road.
"I just want them to do it right," he said.
This is not the first time Turner has limited access to the road. He set up a tollbooth at the edge of his property the last two weekends in May and charged motorists $20 per person, $10 per child and $500 per tour bus to cross his land.
Members of the Hualapai Tribe showed up to protest the toll road and offer free shuttle rides to all visitors.
Turner has argued with the Hualapai Tribe, the federal government and Mohave County over the paving of Diamond Bar Road since 2003. In 2004, he filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Attorney's Office and Mohave County to stop development of the road, saying it would destroy his land.
The lawsuit was settled in 2007, months before the Hualapai Tribe opened the Skywalk, a glass walkway that juts out from the side of the Grand Canyon. As part of the settlement agreement, Turner gave the county land for a new road right of way across his property. In exchange, the road would be designed with overpasses for cattle, horses and wildlife, two entrances to his ranch with turn and merge lanes and cattle guards and a line of trees to buffer his ranch from the noise. The road contractor was also supposed to protect the area's fragile ecosystem and any archeological sites he found.
Turner said that isn't happening. He also pointed out that it's been nearly 10 years since the original plans were drawn up and things have changed. The new road alignment will run right past a new heliport that Turner has built on his property, causing a significant safety hazard to both pilots and motorists.
Mohave County Chief Civil Attorney Bob Taylor said that according to the settlement agreement, Turner has the right to control access to his land. The agreement called for construction on the new road to be completed within four years. After that, the original alignment of Diamond Bar Road would revert to Turner.
The tribe's struggle to get funding to finish the project caused enough of a delay that the clock ran out, Taylor said.
Several Hualapai members, including Tribal Council Chairwoman Sherry Counts, pleaded with the Mohave County Board of Supervisors to do something about the situation Monday morning.
"Whether Mohave County officials agree with the federal government, the Hualapai Tribe or Mr. Turner, we ask them to put politics aside and focus on the people who really matter: the tourists," Cieslak said. "These are the tourists who eat at Mohave County restaurants, buy gas at Mohave County stations and stay in Mohave County hotels. If they want visitors to keep spending money in Mohave County, the Supervisors must direct the County Attorney to secure an injunction and order this roadblock removed today while the other issues are being resolved."