Guest Column: Just because it's good for the tribe doesn't make it bad for the county

Mohave County citizens should be celebrating a tremendous achievement by Congressman Paul Gosar and Sen. Jeff Flake, who along with Sen. John McCain and the entire Arizona congressional delegation, recently succeeded in passing the Bill Williams River Water Rights Settlement Act (H.R. 4924).

The economic and other benefits flowing from the bill's passage benefit Mohave County in many ways, which leads to an important point.

The Hualapai Tribe is part of Mohave County. We are citizens of Mohave County. What benefits our tribe benefits the county. In some discussions of the legislation, these facts seem to have been ignored. As chairwoman of the proud Hualapai people, it has been disappointing to listen as some treat our tribe as though we are outsiders in our homeland.

The tireless efforts of Gosar and Flake to move H.R. 4924 - in record time, and with unanimous, bipartisan support of their colleagues in the House and Senate - are deeply appreciated by the Hualapai people, as tribal members and as citizens of Mohave County. The futures of both the tribe and the county are connected by building a stronger, more sustainable economy through the settlement of long-standing water rights issues.

The Hualapai Tribe is an enormous economic driver for Mohave County, and we're proud to contribute to the region's vitality through operations such as Grand Canyon West and the Skywalk, tourist attractions that bring hundreds of thousands of visitors, and millions of dollars, into local economies each year. These tribal operations employ about 600 people, roughly half of whom are non-Indians.

To continue these operations, and to expand them in the future for the benefit of all, the Hualapai Tribe must resolve its water rights issues in a fair, equitable manner between the tribe, the federal and state governments, and other entities. H.R. 4924 does just that in the Big Sandy area, and also sets the stage for the tribe to comprehensively resolve its Colorado River rights as well.

The legislation confirms the tribe's water rights on a 60-acre parcel of reservation land along Big Sandy Creek, and tribal members' federally reserved water rights on two off-reservation allotments in the Big Sandy Creek area. Under certain circumstances, Freeport Minerals would also be required to provide supplemental water to these tribal and allotted lands if Freeport's own pumping has interfered with the federally reserved water rights on these lands.

The measure also helps protect the sacred Cofer Hot Spring, a tribal treasure that will now be impacted only by minimal pumping by Freeport in the aquifer that supplies the spring, protecting a site of great cultural importance to our heritage as a people.

I know some people have expressed concern about Freeport granting the tribe a right of first refusal if Freeport sells certain lands in the Big Sandy area. The purpose of this is to ensure that the tribe can protect Cofer Hot Spring if Freeport someday sells its land. But Freeport has no plans to sell and the tribe has no plans to buy the land for the foreseeable future. The argument that the legislation will deprive the county of tax revenues because the tribe is putting land into trust is a falsehood. It does no such thing.

In addition to these vital benefits to the tribe at Big Sandy Creek, the legislation provides water certainty to Freeport's Bagdad Mine, another economic engine for the county. And it opens new lands to public hunting and fishing, a benefit for all county residents. Once again, the future economy of the Hualapai Tribe, and thus Mohave County, are front and center in H.R. 4924.

The Hualapai Tribe lives here. We work and play here. We share our lives and fortunes with the other citizens of Mohave County, and we're proud to have supported public policy that rewards us all for working toward a common good.