Government puts brakes on commercial development plan for Grand Canyon

March 9, 2016, 11:01 a.m.
Snow lines the Grand Canyon rim.
Photo: Doug Meek/Shutterstock

There always a swirl of controversy hovering over the Grand Canyon, a tension between those who wish to keep the natural wonder as pristine as possible and those who wish to profit from development.

A housing and commercial development plan called the Tusayan project that would add around 2,200 housing units and 3 million square feet of commercial properties in a small town near the southern rim of the Grand Canyon has been rejected by the U.S. Forest Service, to the relief of local and national conservation groups.

The controversial development plan left many questions unanswered, including how water would be supplied to the development.

"Environmentalists, including the Sierra Club and the Grand Canyon Trust, oppose the Tusayan project, in the works for more than two decades," reported Smithsonian last year when the future of the project was still being decided. "The greatest threat the Tusayan development poses to the vast wilderness of the Grand Canyon, some critics say, could be the diminishing of the South Rim aquifer, which would cause springs and oases far below the rim to dry up significantly."

Though the forest service has rejected the plans for the project, this doesn't mean the end for development in the area. "The development isn't permanently killed, since the agency left the door open for any proposals should they be able to demonstrate minimal environmental harm," reports National Geographic.

The Grand Canyon and surrounding areas have been the target not only for development but also industrial mining. While a 20-year moratorium has been placed on exploratory mining, even that ruling is not final.

According to National Geographic:

"Within the next few months, a pair of federal court cases could establish whether the moratorium will hold and determine the fate of existing mining operations, which environmentalists have also sued to block. Partly because the outcome of those cases is unclear, [Roger Clark, the director of the Grand Canyon program for the Grand Canyon Trust] is urging the Obama administration to create a new national monument out of the federal lands not yet protected in the Grand Canyon watershed. The national park is currently about 1.2 million acres, and Clark would like to see a monument out of 1.7 million additional acres of public land."

Whether it's mining or new development within or nearby the canyon, the national park and surrounding wilderness is never quite free from danger, and conservationists work tirelessly on behalf of this beautiful place.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.