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Fri, Oct. 18

2012 Year in Review: New uranium mining banned on 1 million acres near Grand Canyon

Bus pullouts are part of Tusayan’s ADOT project. Ryan Williams/WGCN

Bus pullouts are part of Tusayan’s ADOT project. Ryan Williams/WGCN

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar finalized a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon Jan. 9.

The decision allows existing uranium and other hard rock mining operations in the region to continue but bans new claims. In 2009, Salazar suspended new uranium claims on public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon for two years.

Salazar announced the decision at the National Geographic Society headquarters and in June, Salazar announced his recommendation to extend the mining ban against the scenic backdrop of the Grand Canyon's South Rim at Mather Point.

"Like our ancestors, we do not know how future Americans will enjoy, experience and benefit from this place," Salazar said. "That's one of the many reasons why wisdom, caution and science should guide our protection of the Grand Canyon."

Environmental groups strongly support the ban, claiming the mining could contaminate the Canyon's watershed. But, mining industry representatives say new mining practices pose no environmental dangers.

Some GOP legislators, including Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who represents Arizona's Sixth District, claim uranium mining would provide necessary job stimulus.

"Uranium mining outside of Grand Canyon National Park can create jobs and stimulate the economy in northern Arizona without jeopardizing the splendor and natural beauty within the park," Flake said in July. "The Obama administration is stepping on Arizona's economy and overstepping in terms of government regulations by banning new uranium mining claims in northern Arizona."

Roger Clark, with the Grand Canyon Trust said the landmark decision closes the door on rampant industrialization of Grand Canyon's watersheds.

"Uranium mining imposes well documented and unacceptable risks to the people and natural resources of our region," he said.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said the ban is yet another instance of the federal government engaging in excessive and unnecessary regulation, impeding the creation of jobs and economic growth.

"The 20-year ban comes at the expense of hundreds of high-paying jobs and approximately $10 billion worth of activity for the Arizona economy," she said. "Our state has years of experience with uranium mining in northern Arizona. Further, both the Arizona Geological Survey and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality have submitted findings that uranium mining - conducted lawfully and with proper oversight - represents a minimal environmental risk to the Grand Canyon and Colorado River."

Brewer added she believes environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive.

The ban will not affect more than 3,000 mining claims already staked near the Grand Canyon.

The Bush administration previously opened up the land to new mining claims. Salazar reversed the Bush policy in 2009, calling for a two-year moratorium on new mining claims around the Canyon. A six-month extension was announced last year.

National Park eliminates sale of water in disposable containers

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Grand Canyon National Park eliminated the in-park sale of water packaged in individual disposable containers in early March under a plan National Park Service (NPS) Intermountain Regional (IMR) Director John Wessels approved Feb. 6.

Free water stations are available throughout the park to allow visitors to fill reusable water bottles.

The park's plan eliminated the sale of water packaged in individual disposable containers of less than one gallon, including plastic bottles and various types of boxes. The waste associated with disposable bottles comprises an estimated 20 percent of the park's overall waste stream and 30 percent of the park's recyclables.

Former Grand Canyon Superintendent Steve Martin spearheaded the plan to curtail the sale of disposable water bottles in late 2010. National Park Service (NPS) Director John Jarvis blocked the plan just two weeks before it was scheduled to take effect.

In a November New York Times story, former Superintendent Steve Martin said Coca-Cola curtailed his plan after expressed concern about the plan, contacting the National Park Foundation who in turn contacted Jarvis.

David Barna, NPS spokesman, said the Regional Director in the Denver office did not approve the plan. He added media coverage of Coca-Cola's possible role in Grand Canyon's water bottle plan definitely influenced the early issuance of disposable water bottle sale guidelines.

Jarvis issued, approved in accordance with the policy and submitted Grand Canyon National Park's plan on Dec. 14, 2011. The policy directs parks to put into effect a disposable plastic water bottle recycling and reduction policy, with an option to eliminate in-park sales - with the approval of the park's regional director - following a thorough analysis of a variety of factors ranging from the cost to install water filling stations, to the cost and availability of BPA-free reusable containers, to potential effects on public safety.

Wessels said parks should set the standard for resource protection and sustainability.

"Grand Canyon National Park has provided an excellent analysis of the impacts the elimination of bottled water would have, and has developed a well-thought-out plan for ensuring that the safety, needs and comfort of visitors continue to be met in the park," Wessels said. "I feel confident that the impacts to park concessioners and partners have been given fair consideration and that this plan can be implemented with minimal impacts to the visiting public."

Grand Canyon Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said Grand Canyon Park officials hope to minimize both the monetary and environmental costs associated with disposable water containers.

"We are grateful to the director for recognizing the need for service-wide guidance on this issue and for providing a thoughtful range of options," he said.

According to Jarvis, careful thought went into the current plan and its implementation.

"I applaud Grand Canyon National Park for its efforts to reduce waste and the environmental impacts created by individually packaged water," he said.

Curtain rises on original theater production

TUSAYAN, Ariz. - When it comes to original, cutting-edge theater productions, most people likely think of New York's Broadway and off-Broadway offerings. But, visitors to the Grand Canyon are in for a surprise when they walk through the doors of Tusayan's new Grand Canyon Dinner Theatre & Steakhouse.

The venue's original musical, "Miss Kitty's Grand Adventure: "I'm No Mail Order Bride," opened May 5.

Formerly the Western Discovery Museum, located off Highway 64, the owners gave the building a radical transformation. It emerged as an old west themed dining and entertainment establishment.

The theater is located in what used to be the museum portion of the building. An old west saloon-themed steakhouse will be located in the front of the building.

The steakhouse features an antique back bar along with wainscoting, punched ceilings and an old potbelly stove, among other period décor.

Writer, director, and vocal arranger Doug Hallenbeck said one of the more interesting aspects of the production is the integration of a large video wall at the rear of the stage.

"It's one giant screen," Hallenbeck said. "In a lot of concert venues or Vegas Cirque venues they use a video wall. But, to actually use it in a theater piece, I've never seen it done, actually. It's a little cutting edge."

Hallenbeck said the show opens at a train station. The screen displays a photo of the station to help set the scene with the stage becoming the railway platform.

During musical numbers the screen comes to life much like a music video.

"We go into a more imaginative place, what's in the character's mind," Hallenbeck said.

How did Hallenbeck, based in the Los Angeles area, end up in Tusayan working on a theater piece?

"It's not the easiest thing to get original stuff produced," Hallenbeck said. "So, to have the opportunity to write something is great."

A writer, director, and vocal arranger, Hallenbeck won the 2011 Magellan Award for Best Entertainment on the High Seas for his vocal direction and arrangements for CANTARE on Holland America's MS New Amsterdam. He brings an extensive theatrical background to the Grand Canyon musical.

Creating a historically accurate yet entertaining production has been a challenge, according to Hallenbeck, but ultimately very rewarding.

"How am I going to take Harvey Girls and other western elements, how can we bring some of these elements in? How can you research this area and incorporate it? It was a challenge to weave in history without going to a documentary feel. And, finding a way to keep it interesting and dramatic with comedy," he said.

As it turns out, Hallenbeck was up to the task. The show, set in the early 1900s, begins with an encounter on the Grand Canyon Railway platform between Miss Kitty, a young girl from Philadelphia who has come to the wild west to work as a Harvey Girl waitress, and a diverse cast of characters. The cvast includes the devious Captain Ogilvy, the "shady lady" Madame de Murska, a happy-go-lucky prospector, Cockeyed Frank Carson, who mistakes Miss Kitty for his mail order bride and Shane Guthrie a handsome young cowboy, who rides to her rescue.

Elling Halvorson, the Dinner Theatre's owner, said he hopes to bring a world-class entertainment experience to the Grand Canyon.

"It only makes sense to combine the great heritage of hospitality and the mystique of the old west," he said. "The Harvey Girls, the Grand Canyon Railway, the rough and tumble wild west, and the amazing beauty of this entire region are rolled into one grand experience for our visitors."

Hallenbeck said Halvorson and Theater General Manager ClayAnn Cook hired a top-notch music director to update the show.

"The music is definitely from the era, so we went back into that era and found some great stuff," he said. "(Music Director Edward Harris Roth) updated it. Even though a song may have been written in 1900, it has a more up-beat arrangement with some country elements, some western elements, some of them are a little more jazz and there is definitely some blues.

Roth has toured with Grammy winners Coolio and Mya, and has played keyboards on recordings with Will Smith, Sophie B. Hawkins and Angie Stone.

The show's choreographer, Laura Nickerson, has worked with Kelly Monaco on "Port Charles," on the stage musicals "Cats," "Mamma Mia," "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" and "Once on This Island," and the television pilot "Celebration Station."

The show's actors hail from Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York. Jini Scoville (Miss Kitty), Joshua Taylor Hamilton (Shane Guthrie), Jeffrey Ricca (Captain Ogilvy), Luis Alex Rodriguez (Cockeyed Frank Carson), and Evelyn Connors (Madame de Murska) have appeared in stage productions throughout the U.S., Europe, and on cruise ships, as well as in films and TV. Their understudies are a talented cast from Northern Arizona University's School of Music.

Halvorson and Cook were actively involved in the development of the production. As the production took shape, the two conducted "table reads." Hallenbeck said at one such reading four of the productions actors were cast.

Along with the theater experience, the Grand Canyon Dinner Theatre lives up to its name serving a family-style dinner during the show delivered to every table featuring flame-seared steaks, chops, poultry, and fish specials as well as vegetarian options. The wait staff will also wear period costumes, with the waitresses donning vintage Harvey Girl-style uniforms.

The Dinner Theatre is lined with building facades reminiscent of an old west town, accented by wagon wheel chandeliers. The playroom has been built to create the look and feel of an 1890s gaslight theatre, complete with red velvet draperies and lamp posts much like those that stood originally on the streets of Tombstone in the early 1900s.

The dinner video pre-show is projected on two huge video screens and features a look at life in the west, both past and present.

Breaking ground for Grand Canyon youth

TUSAYAN, Ariz. - Town of Tusayan and Grand Canyon School District officials celebrated a groundbreaking for the Tusayan Community Park Oct. 1.

Officials scheduled Phase 1 of construction on the School-Community Park is almost complete. The park includes a lit multi-use sports court, a tot lot and parking.

Park Project Manager Andrew Aldaz said the groundbreaking marks a great day for Tusayan as many partners pulled together to make a 15-year-old dream a reality.

"The idea of a community park lived with Pete Shearer for over 15 years. Without the town, the school, and the many community businesses that have donated funds, this wouldn't be happening today," Aldaz said.

Pete Shearer said credit needs to be shared with John Reuter who has worked since the late 1990s to create a park in Tusayan.

Tusayan Mayor Greg Bryan said that the park is a tribute to the ability of community members to work together for a common good.

The following contributed to the first phase of the park's construction:the town of Tusayan, Grand Canyon Unified School District, Stilo Development, ClayAnn Cook, The Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce, Red Feather Lodge, Bill Foster Memorial, Delaware North, the Sanitation District, Coconino County Supervisor Carl Taylor, APS, Canyon Plaza, Michael Taylor Architects, Plateau Engineering and B's Construction.

ADOT project in Tusayan comes to a close

TUSAYAN, Ariz. - After a year of major road construction to minimize speeding through Tusayan, work came to a close this July.

Community members got the project started in 2004 with safety as a leading concern.

"Coconino County Supervisor Carl Taylor really spearheaded starting it with Arizona Department of Tourism and then it was myself, Ann Wren, Greg Bryan, Pete Shearer, and Brent Kok," local resident Clarinda Vail said. "We went through the plan maybe seven years ago. We asked what the options were for getting mainly crosswalks to be put in and more pedestrian studies. ADOT came in and did traffic studies off season and in season."

The results of the studies found the average speed of drivers greatly exceeded the designated zone, which sparked ADOT to agree to construct the highway project, and on July 18, 2011, construction on State Route (SR) 64 and enhancements along the roadway began.

Work on the road included widening the present five-lane divided highway to allow for raised center medians and bus pullouts. ADOT also constructed two roundabout intersections to bring down traffic speed, which are located at South Long Jim Loop and Coyote Lane.

"The finished product is so worth it," Vail said.

Road improvements included construction of new sidewalks, granite paths, decorative signage and landscaping.

Bus pullouts on the east side of the road are still being constructed in front of the Grand Hotel and in front of IMAX Theatre at the west side of town.

"They are designed and paid for by the National Park Service (NPS)," Tusayan Mayor Greg Bryan said. "Once they are constructed the town will own them. It's through a special grant by the highway commission and the NPS."

A final layer of asphalt to the roadway and final road striping will be added in about a month.

"It was a collaborative effort between ADOT, Fann Construction, and the community," Bryan said. "They really set out to make it as smooth as possible and they really tried to minimize the amount of disruption to the businesses during the summer months. That was a conscious thought."

According to Bryan, the project was projected to cost $5.8 million, but the budget was exceeded because of extra work needed on the roundabouts.

Ochoa resigns as Tusayan town manager

TUSAYAN, Ariz. -Enrique Ochoa, Tusayan's first full-time town employee, resigned from the town manager position April 27.

"We have received an offer of the town manager's resignation and we are in the process of finalizing a separation agreement," Tusayan Mayor Greg Bryan said in a prepared statement.

The council planned to officially act on the development during their regular meeting on May 16.

Tim Pickering with Interim Public Management provided the town with the interim manager applicants, as per their contract with Tusayan.

The town's interim manager is Tami Ryall with Interim Public Management, who will be with Tusayan until they can find a permanent replacement. "Once we have them in place we will then begin the process of beginning to find a long term or permanent manager," Bryan said.

The Tusayan Town Council approved a contract for a permanent town manager at a special meeting March 18 of last year, naming Enrique Medina Ochoa the first full-time staff person for the town.

Until Ochoa's hire, Tusayan had functioned with volunteer temporary and contract staff.

Ochoa, of Avondale, Ariz. was previously city manager of Arvin, Calif. from 2002 to 2007. He also worked in intergovernmental relations and for the state of Arizona. Ochoa is fluent in Spanish and holds a BA from Stanford University and a Master's degree from Arizona State University.

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