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Mon, March 18

Turner wants road to Skywalk routed back to his ranch

KINGMAN - After battling for five years to rebuild and move Diamond Bar Road off of his property, Grand Canyon Ranch Resort owner Nigel Turner now wants traffic to return to the old alignment of Diamond Bar Road that crosses his land.

Turner wrote two letters this week to the BLM's Kingman Field Office and to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Phoenix office appealing the BLM's decision to allow the Hualapai Tribal Council to build a dirt road to bypass the old alignment of Diamond Bar Road on his property. The tribe started construction on a new paved alignment of Diamond Bar Road in April. It asked for permission to use part of the unfinished road to bypass Turner's property in May after he started charging motorists a fee to use the old road alignment. He closed the road to all traffic on June 4. It was reopened to traffic, with an entrance fee on June 11.

In his letters, Turner claims that the bypass is costing him $50,000 a day in revenue and it's unnecessary, unsafe and is damaging the environment. He also claims the U.S. Bureau of Land Management never notified him of the tribal council's request for a bypass, even though he owns the grazing rights to the land.

He is asking the BLM to halt all use of the new road and to reroute traffic onto the old Diamond Bar Road alignment that crosses his land until the appeal is resolved.

In his letter to the BLM, Turner states that every day he is losing around $25,000 worth of fees for motorists to use the old road to cross his ranch, $5,000 in lost revenue due to reduced tourism traffic to the resort, and a $20,000 loss in revenues from other activities provided on the ranch, such as helicopter flights, horseback rides and wild west shows.

He claims that according to a 2007 settlement agreement with the federal government and Mohave County, he has a right to charge an activity fee to cover the liability of motorists crossing his property.

"This is a significant economic impact not analyzed in accordance with (National Environmental Protection Act) requirements and certainly not covered under a categorical exclusion," Turner stated in his letter.

According to Hualapai tribal spokesman Dave Cieslak, the whole thing is ludicrous. He pointed out that Turner only started charging the entrance fee for all motorists crossing his property in May.

Turner said his fight really isn't about the money he's losing, it's about protecting the environment and the safety of the public. He's already had to put to down one calf that was struck by a car. A vehicle striking a full-grown cow could cause a fatal accident, he said.

"I just want them to do it right," Turner said, referring to the construction of the new road, which, according to a 2007 settlement agreement, is supposed to include underpasses for cattle and horseback riders.

Turner and the Hualapai Tribal Council have been battling over the paving of Diamond Bar Road since 2003. Turner argues that the tribal council is not honoring the 2007 agreement to protect wildlife, historical sites, the environment and the safety of the visitors to his ranch while the new road is under construction.

"It's 150 feet," Cieslak said. "He's misleading the public. I'm baffled that a person who is in the tourism business is treating visitors this way."

Typically, tourism businesses try to work together to bring more visitors to their area, Cieslak said. But Turner's actions have intimidated visitors and prevented employees from getting to work.

He pointed out that Turner closed the old Diamond Bar Road to all traffic on June 4 and was arrested the same day on misdemeanor charges of threatening and intimidating after Mohave County Sheriff's Office received a call that he had allegedly threatened a worker with a gun.

Turner refutes Cieslak's claims. He pointed out that the road was reopened to all traffic, with fees in place, on June 11, the same day the BLM granted the tribe permission to bypass his land.

"At no time were they ever prevented from accessing their commercial operations, including the Skywalk, since alternative routes were open and available," Turner states in his appeal. "Since the present application for a (right of way) over BLM land was submitted before the existing Diamond Bar Road was closed, it would appear that the sole purpose of the application was to avoid paying the fees to access the Skywalk. To categorize and deal with this application as an emergency was therefore totally inappropriate and misleading."

Turner also pointed out that the BLM had a duty to notify him of the tribal council's May 30 request for the bypass.

"The Grand Canyon Ranch, as an adjoining property and holder of the grazing rights, was not notified by the BLM until after the permit for the easement was issued," Turner states in his appeal. "In this instance, there was no formal solicitation for public comment, no formal notice of a permit to proceed on construction of a right of way, and no evaluation of the environmental or economic damage that such construction would create."

Repeated messages left with Kingman BLM Field Office Manager Ruben Sanchez were not returned.

Turner also claims that the bypass is unnecessary because there are two routes to the Grand Canyon West - Diamond Bar Road and Buck and Doe Road in Peach Springs.

Buck and Doe Road is not a viable alternative, according to Cieslak.

"It adds three hours, round trip, for visitors," he said.

Turner also states that the continued use of the bypass road is causing damage to archeological sites, wildlife and his ranch. He pointed out that construction crews uncovered a previously unknown, burial site earlier this month in the road right of way.

The "simple remedy" to the dispute, Turner said, is to keep the current road open until the mutually agreed upon plans as per the 2007 legal agreement are complied with.


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