Coal plant's possible closure spurs Grand Canyon tram debate

Posted: Updated:
(Source: grandcanyonescalade.com) (Source: grandcanyonescalade.com)
FLAGSTAFF, AZ (AP) -

The impending closure of a coal-fired power plant on the Navajo Nation could lend momentum to a project being considered by tribal leaders to build a tram at the Grand Canyon to fill the economic void.

The Grand Canyon Escalade project was brought up to Navajo Nation lawmakers and tribal members last fall by former Navajo Nation President Albert Hale as a solution to shrinking revenues from nonrenewable energies, The Arizona Daily Sun reported (http://bit.ly/2rCyJdN). Now, with the Navajo Generating Station looking less likely to be open through 2019, Hale's forecast is starting to play out.

The tram's developer, Confluence Partners, predicts the tribe's cut of annual revenues would total between $18.8 million and $62.9 million, based on visitation and visitor spending. These revenues would rival what the power plant brings in annually. But some people in the area are not OK with developers using the power plant's impending closure to advocate for the tram.

"My relatives are being impacted by NGS, and the Escalade partners were hoping to take advantage of that as an incentive for the Navajo Nation to consider their project," said Renae Yellowhorse, an employee with Save the Confluence, which is a nonprofit opposing the tram.

Lamar Whitmer, managing partner with Confluence Partners, said news of the power plant's likely closure hasn't impacted the way the tram's backers are presenting the proposal, though.

Hale, who is now a partner with Confluence Partners, said he thinks the coal plant's dim future is serious enough where it should help the argument for the tram.

"Whether it's the Escalade or any type of project . the fact that the generation station is closing is more reason why these type of projects need to be seriously discussed and seriously considered," Hale said. "The project we are looking at is one way to replace those lost revenues, and it's not going to be based on a nonrenewable resource. It is a resource that is going to continue. Tourism is not going to go away."

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