Toll road raises stakes in Skywalk dispute
Tribe says fee is a 'shakedown,' but ranch owner calls it a basic question of the law
KINGMAN - If grudges were water, the longstanding dispute between the Hualapai tribe and Mohave County businessman Nigel Turner could fill the Grand Canyon.
"This isn't fun," said an angry Turner on Tuesday, following a weekend in which he collected a toll from people crossing his property to get to the tribe's Grand Canyon Skywalk attraction.
"This is for all that abuse to my land that benefits someone else."
He said he hired a security firm consisting of off-duty law enforcement officers who would know how to safely manage the collection of the toll, which charged $20 per adult and $10 for children.
While Turner said the toll paid for admission to his business, which is popular with tourists who want to experience life on a working ranch, he also said he'd be more pleased if people took a different route to Grand Canyon West and the Skywalk.
But Diamond Bar Road is by far the best route to get to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, said tribal spokesman Dave Cieslak.
He was furious at Mohave County officials for allowing Turner to charge a toll.
"I've talked to tourists who said they felt threatened and intimidated," said Cieslak. "It's ridiculous that a Mohave County business owner could be allowed to block a public road, a public thoroughfare.
"I don't understand how this man can legally stop citizens and charge them to drive one mile on a public road. At the end of the day, this guy is guilty of taking money from unsuspecting tourists."
While Cieslak said Turner's toll road should not be allowed to continue, Turner intends to do exactly that.
A decade-long legal dispute over the use and construction of Diamond Bar Road - which leads through Turner's tourist attraction, Grand Canyon Ranch, and straight to the Hualapai tribe's glass-bottom tourist attraction Skywalk - has both sides crying foul.
Turner on Saturday began charging a toll to motorists headed to the Skywalk. By Monday, tribal members were at the toll location with signs in hand, protesting Turner's action.
Here's the issue in a nutshell: Turner filed a lawsuit in 2003 in response to plans by Mohave County and the tribe to pave Diamond Bar Road, which, he argued, was never designed for the amount of daily traffic it has carried since the Skywalk opened in 2007, the same year Turner's lawsuit was settled.
He was ultimately provided a cash payment of $750,000 and several promised improvements to the road.
Those improvements included overpasses for cattle and horses to pass under; two entrances to the ranch with turn and merge lanes, with cattle guards; a line of trees to buffer the ranch from traffic; and new signs for the business. Fencing on both sides of the road also was approved in the original agreement.
The road builder would also have to perform the work in such a manner that archaeological sites and plant life were protected.
In return, Turner granted a new easement across his property for the new road.
Work stopped about four years ago when the tribe learned it did not have the funding to complete the project.
Turner balked at renewed plans to finish the road, since the new plan did not contain any provisions, he said, of what was listed in the 2007 settlement agreement. He claims the road now reverts back to his ownership.
While the number of private passenger cars and tour buses on the road average about 850 a day, giving Turner and his guests a very un-ranch-like vibe, he said drivers and their passengers also dump trash on the roadside and show "no respect."
Both Turner and the tribe believe the law is on their side.
"The new roadwork needs resolving," he said. "Let's just stop this so we can talk. The old road is my road. It's my private property and I need to look out for myself, my animals, my guests and my 45 employees. This isn't about fairness. This is about the law."
Cieslak countered that Turner is "just shaking down tourists who come into Mohave County."
"We're having trouble understanding why Mohave County isn't stepping in to enforce its own laws," he said.
Requests for comment from the Mohave County Sheriff's Office were not immediately returned.
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