River governor seeks vote on freeway
Betty Beard and Corinne
SACATON -In a surprise turnabout, the Gila River
Indian Community may consider allowing the South Mountain Freeway to be built on
reservation land after all, potentially saving hundreds of homes in Ahwatukee
"Our understanding was that Governor Rhodes wanted to have further dialogue within the Gila River Indian Community on the subject of the South Mountain Freeway," he said.
The proposed freeway is now scheduled to run from Interstate 10 along Pecos Road in Ahwatukee Foothills to a yet-to-be-determined point on I-10 in West Valley. It would demolish hundreds of Ahwatukee Foothills homes.
There are hurdles ahead for Rhodes, who has been the governor only about four months. He first must get past a 2001 resolution adopted by the Gila River Community Council that forbids the freeway, or even a study of it. The council reaffirmed that stance about a year ago.
Thomas said in an e-mail Wednesday that the tribe's official position is still against the freeway on the reservation.
But the governor or someone in the administration apparently is trying to get the council to rescind that 2001 resolution and approve a referendum. That proposal showed up on two Gila River council committee agendas Wednesday.
It has to be approved by at least one of the committees before it can get to the full council. And a referendum has to be approved by the council before it can get on a ballot.
One committee tabled it for two weeks and the other, the Legislative Standing Committee, voted to take it off the agenda after hearing from several community members who don't want the freeway on the reservation.
"I don't know what part of 'no' they don't understand," said Councilman John Antone, before making a motion to reject the proposal.
Lillian Wilson-Rideau, a community landowner who lives in Phoenix, urged the committee not to take any action that might allow a freeway. "You would lose all this pristine land you have. You would lose this land, period," she said.
Terrance Evans, a councilman from the reservation's District 6, which borders Pecos Road and would be the most affected by the freeway, said most people in his district oppose putting the freeway on reservation land.
And historically, the full council has gone along with the wishes of people in that district, he said.
Kristina Morago, another council member, said the community is sending mixed signals. "If I was ADOT, it would be very confusing and unclear," she said. "We turned it (freeway) down, yet it is still an issue."