Several youth from the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) showed up in anti-Loop 202 T-shirts and masks to the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce Public Policy meeting on Friday to show opposition for the meeting’s presenter.
Joseph Perez, founder of Pangea Development LLC., was invited by the chamber to give an update on the People’s Initiative being pushed forward on the GRIC. Pangea did not create the initiative but has been helping facilitate meetings between landowners on the reservation. It is the Landowners putting forth the initiative.
Nathaniel Percharo, a District 6 resident and landowner, was present at the meeting to speak as a member of GRIC Landowners. Percharo said the Landowners do not oppose the “No Build” option, but that there has been confusion about exactly what “No Build” means.
The People’s Initiative is an initiative put forth by GRIC Landowners asking for the Loop 202 extension to be placed on the GRIC reservation. The Landowners have asked that the tribe approve for the freeway to go mostly on allotted lands, which are different from tribal lands, and then onto a portion of tribal land to avoid going through South Mountain.
If the People’s Initiative fails, Perez said the freeway will most likely go on the Pecos Road Alignment. If it passes the freeway will go through allotted lands on the reservation and onto some community lands around South Mountain. Signatures for the initiative are still being verified by the tribal enrollment office. Once all signatures are verified it will go to the tribal council, who can accept it as is or put it to a public vote. It is expected to go a public vote.
Youth at the meeting were part of a “No Build” group asking for the tribe, Arizona Department of Transportation, Maricopa Association of Governments and GRIC Landowners, to honor the tribe’s vote from February 2012 where voters chose “No Build.” The GRIC government has not taken an official stance on the issue.
Joseph Perez explained that from what he has seen “No Build” is not actually an option, which is why the Landowners have chosen to put forth their own initiative.
Perez said the Loop 202 is part of a planned route between Mexico and Canada that is required by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), known as the CANAMEX Corridor.
“I am outraged to hear Pangea cite NAFTA and CANAMEX as their justification that the freeway is going to happen,” said Andrew Pedro from Sacaton in a statement. “I feel my future and children’s future is endangered by such plans, especially since our community is against the level of development the Loop 202 would bring. I encourage community members and tribal leaders to look into CANAMEX and NAFTA, so we can be informed of the ramifications these projects represent, so we can fight it.”
Pat Lawlis, president of PARC (Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children) was also present at the meeting. She said there are other options for the CANAMEX Corridor, like State Route 85, and by law “No Build” is still an option.
“We would love if the government would say what you say they say and put it in writing,” Lawlis said. “That violates NEPA, which immediately means the freeway would not happen. The ‘No Build’ option is viable and is probably the most likely thing to happen.”
While there was a difference in opinions the meeting was kept civil. All sides seemed to agree that above all South Mountain must be saved.
Christi Perez, partner in Pangea Development, said as an Ahwatukee Foothills resident and wife of a GRIC member she has a vested interest in South Mountain.
“We are not on separate sides of the fence here,” Christi said. “We actually agree with everything that everyone says. We do not want to see the mountain destroyed. Period. If there’s going to be a freeway, let’s save the mountain. No build may be on here as an option but the way we see it and the research we’ve done, we can’t see that it can be stopped. If there’s a way to stop it from being built, let us know what that is and maybe we’ll help you. We don’t care about the freeway.”
The Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce does not take a position on issues but hopes to be more of a resource for the community. There will be more Public Policy meetings discussing the Loop 202 freeway in the future.
For more information on the “No Build” group, visit www.nosouthmountainfreeway.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Loop 202 Freeway, visit southmountainfreeway.com. For more information on Pangea, visit www.pangealand.com.
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