PHOENIX — Canyon Forest Village managing partner Tom De Paolo said he will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that the U.S. Forest Service’s environmental impact statement for the planned project at Tusayan was deficient.
Paul Rosenblatt, U.S. District judge, ruled Sept. 13 that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, failed to analyze CFV’s full impact and did not examine alternatives to trading forest land for the development.
The court stated that the Forest Service should have finalized and made public the covenants intended to govern land and water use prior to approving the land trade. Further, the court said those covenants should have been included in the environmental review and the public should have been allowed to comment on them.
However, De Paolo said the judge did not follow established law and cited no case law in his decision, prompting De Paolo to believe the decision will be overturned on appeal.
"It was almost like a personal opinion," De Paolo said. "It was an uninformed, biased ruling. I’m extremely confident it will be overturned on appeal."
The Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit. Since the Arizona court allowed CFV to intervene, De Paolo believes he can appeal the lawsuit to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Tom Gillett, public service officer for Kaibab National Forest, said his agency is trying to "figure out" the decision and determine what move to make next.
"I’ve got several other folks in the region and in Washington doing the same thing," Gillett said.
CFV has said it was not planning to use groundwater during construction or operations. The proposal was to haul in water from the Colorado River near Topock via railroad and pipeline.
The court ruled that the Forest Service violated the law by not looking at how the water would get to the project and whether the water transport plan was economically realistic.
"We hope the Forest Service will go back and look at non-development options to protect the Grand Canyon and the surrounding area, including simply buying any needed land through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and that they will include the public fully in any decisions," said Sandy Bahr, the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter conservation outreach director.
The CFV project, whose rezoning request was defeated at the polls last November by Coconino County voters, included 272 acres of Forest Service land between Tusayan and Grand Canyon National Park. In exchange, the Forest Service would have received about 2,000 acres of scattered private parcels.
The court stated that other alternatives to the land exchange were not fully analyzed. Other alternatives included purchasing land inholdings through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, considering a modified land exchange alternative on a smaller scale and considering any alternative that relied on issuance of special-use permits.
This past spring, a different federal judge in Washington threw out all but one count of a lawsuit against CFV. That suit was brought by Tusayan business owners and the cities of Williams and Flagstaff.
In the earlier court case, the judge said the EIS adequately addressed the project’s impact of the region as well as alternatives, but did not include a comprehensive study of the water transport plan.
"We have two rulings that are somewhat conflicting if not contradictory in issues," Gillett said. "That’s what I’m trying to sort out."
Gillett said as the defendants, an appeal could be an option for the Forest Service, but no decisions have been made.