Shelly threatens to pull support from Escalade

By CIndy Yurth
Tséyhi' Bureau

CHINLE, August 16, 2012

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I n an Aug. 6 letter to Lamar Whitmer of Confluence Partners LLC, President Ben Shelly threatened to withdraw his support of a proposed resort in Gap/Bodaway Chapter unless the partners can prove "solid public support" for the massive project by the end of the year.

"Though we would like to see this project move forward, if solid public support cannot be attained before Dec. 31, 2012, the Shelly-Jim Administration will have to withdraw our support for the project and the MOU," the letter reads, referring to a memorandum of understanding established between the tribe and the firm in February.

"It has always been my position; in order for this economic project to succeed it is imperative to have local support," Shelly wrote, noting that the MOU stipulates that Confluence Partners will obtain "approvals from the affected customary land users and home site permittees, as well as presentations to the local Chapters."

Confluence Partners has several times presented its plan for a $120 million resort and tramway at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, but Gap/Bodaway twice passed resolutions opposing the "Grand Canyon Escalade," as the firm is calling the project. The most recent resolution, July 22, passed 56-17, according to Shelly's letter.

Confluence Partners spokesman Albert Hale did not return a phone call by press time, but it appeared the Partners were still trying to sway public opinion by taking out full-page ads in the Navajo-Hopi Observer and meeting with various groups of residents.

However, in a letter posted around Western Agency, they disinvited members of five families who live in the area and have been vocal critics of the Escalade.

Callling them the "SWARM" — an acronym for Sanchez, Wilson, Aguirre, Reed and Martin — the letter accuses them of trying to turn away people from the meetings, asking the partners questions but then not letting them answer, and other "disrespectful" behavior.

"Accordingly, your SWARM family members are not welcome to attend our future presentation meetings," the letter reads, instead challenging the opponents to "have your own open houses and tell the people of Bodaway/Gap how the SWARM plan will bring jobs and prosperity to the area."

The partners have stated the development will bring 2,000 new jobs and tens of millions of dollars to the former Bennett Freeze.

Shelly did not return a phone call by press time.

Confluence opponent Willie Longreed said the "SWARM" families are being falsely accused of chasing people away from the meetings, when in fact people are just getting tired of the issue.

"We don't do those things," he said. "They're trying to make excuses for the fact that nobody is going to their meetings. The chapter members have all read about it and heard about it, and they don't need to hear any more from Confluence Partners."

Longreed also suggested the locals have heard some shady things about the partners and don't trust them.

"You have Albert Hale, who was kicked out of the Navajo Nation government," he said. "You have Lamar Whitmer, who was involved with that Skywalk out at Hualapai they're having problems with now. You have Ivan Gamble who is facing drug charges. Then you have Michael Nelson and Deswood Tome, who have problems with their wives or girlfriends."

(Nelson and Tome both have been named in restraining orders pertaining to domestic violence accusations. Tome was the liaison between Shelly's office and the partners.)

"The mostly female land users just don't care to listen to these guys any longer," Longreed concluded.

As for the President's letter, Longreed said Shelly seems to be taking the same tack with this project as he did with the ill-fated Little Colorado River water settlement.

"At first he was pushing it, and now that he's seen how unpopular it is, he's distancing himself from it before he loses political clout," Longreed theorized. "It's all politics."

Meanwhile, Longreed said, Save the Confluence members are considering filing a complaint with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission because of the way Confluence Partners are "ignoring the established process for getting things done in a Navajo Nation chapter."

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