This press release was originally posted through Western Values Project. Western Values Project is now Accountable.US.

Tusayan, Arizona Solicits Mega-Lobbying Firm to Push Mega-Resort that Threatens Grand Canyon

A small, newly-incorporated Arizona town has been paying Interior Secretary Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide counsel as well as lobby the Trump administration in favor of a controversial mega-resort development project, new reporting by the Arizona Republic details after lobbying reports were uncovered by Western Values Project.

“Interior Secretary Bernhardt has bent over backward for his former lobby firm and their clients in the past, and we don’t expect anything different when it comes to this controversial proposal. Tusayan City Commissioners and the foreign development corporation pushing this controversial development know that when money talks, the Trump administration listens,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project.

Tusayan, Arizona, with the help of The Stilo Development Group, wants to build a mega-resort on the doorstep of the Grand Canyon that would divert precious water from the Colorado River and national park among other potential impacts. Before they can begin building, the town needs easement access across National Forest Service Land. Oddly, the Tusayan Town Council hired Sec. Bernhardt’s powerful former lobbying firm Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck (BFHS) to lobby around September 2017, shortly after Bernhardt was confirmed at Interior. Despite the fact that the easement would cross U.S. Forest Service land, reports revealed that Interior agencies are also being lobbied. The town has paid $470,000 dollars to BHFS through the fourth quarter of 2019.

O’Neill continued, “While Bernhardt’s former lobby firm is pushing for approvals and cashing in, we know that if this controversial development moves forward, it will negatively impact both the Grand Canyon and Colorado River. Not only does this lobbying raise questions about the favorable actions the Trump administration and Secretary Bernhardt might make to greenlight it, but it also raises questions about the conspicuous foreign development corporation’s influence on the city’s commissioners.” 

The Stilo Development Group has long planned to put hotels and expansive shopping centers in Tusayan. Their influence will likely have large impacts on Grand Canyon National Park, whose main gate is a mere two miles away. The group has bought the town’s trust with campaign contributions and lavish trips to Italy. Strikingly, according to reporting by High Country News, “No one expects the council, which also serves as the town’s planning and zoning commission, to do anything but approve the developers’ schemes.”

Further Research On Tusayan, AZ And The Mega-Resort Proposal:

A Newly-Incorporated Town And An Italian Development Company Have Hired Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck To Help Get Federal Approval For A Mega Resort At The Doorstep Of The Grand Canyon

The Town Of Tusayan And The Stilo Development Group Want To Build A Mega Resort At The Doorstep Of The Grand Canyon That Would Take Precious Water From The Canyon, But They Need Easements Across National Forest Service Land First. “With more than 6 million visitors per year, the waterlines, parking lots, and infrastructure on the Grand Canyon’s south rim are bursting at the seams. Nonetheless, a developer has enlisted the town of Tusayan in claiming that the solution includes building thousands of new hotel rooms, a RV park, conference center, resort, and possibly a dude ranch to boot — over 1.8 million square feet of commercial space. Their plan also includes residential development that would suck even more water from deep underground, not to mention the light pollution, traffic, and other stresses this massive growth would bring. After failing to push a similar project through in 2016, Stilo Development Group is back, teaming up with Tusayan in a campaign to develop 350 acres of private land — two parcels isolated inside the Kaibab National Forest near Grand Canyon National Park. To get to these islands of private land, they need roads and utilities, which means they need easements across national forest land.” [Grand Canyon Trust, 10/22/19]

Italian-owned Stilo Development Group USA Has A Plan To Put “Hotels, Shopping, Restaurants, And ‘Edutainment’ Centers In Two Areas Within Tusayan.” Stilo “owns 175 acres of a parcel that filings with the U.S. Forest Service label Ten-X Ranch. Stilo gave a separate, and very generous, 20 acres of the Ten-X development to the town of Tusayan to develop for housing; residents view this lot as Stilo’s foot in the door to develop its own larger parcel. Stilo also owns the 140-acre Kotzin Ranch, within Tusayan boundaries, and it owns hundreds more acres in as-yet unincorporated Coconino County. […] Several of the town’s council members work for companies owned by Elling Halvorson, who is one of Stilo’s business partners. Mayor Craig Sanderson, for example, is a pilot with Grand Canyon Airlines, owned by Halvorson; Wirth, now a council member, works for Halvorson’s Papillon Airways. Stilo helped incorporate Tusayan in 2010.” [Phoenix New Times, 06/10/19]

  • “A powerful consortium of developers — including Papillon Helicopters’ owner, Elling Halvorson — has apparently taken control of tiny Tusayan, Arizona’s newest incorporated town. Their increasing influence could have huge impacts on the national park, whose main gate is just two miles away. Halvorson’s Italian partners — the Percassi Group and its real estate affiliate, Gruppo Stilo USA — have been secretly negotiating a zoning and development agreement with a private consultant hired by the Tusayan Town Council. Even Ochoa — the town’s only staffer — didn’t know the details, but the outline made public by the developers would transform Tusayan, which currently has only about 500 residents, into a world-class destination resort. Gruppo Stilo’s website envisions high-end stores selling luxury goods, four- and five-star hotels, time-share condos, a European-style health spa, a Western dude ranch, an entertainment pavilion featuring Native American themes, and a wide price range of residential housing meant, in part, for people who work locally.“ [High Country News, 06/13/11]

The Development Group Has Bought The Tusayan Town Council With Campaign Contributions And Lavish Trips To Italy. “Halvorson’s companies, which include the 250-room Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn and an IMAX theater, employ hundreds of people here. Mayor Greg Bryan manages the inn, and two other town council members also work for Halvorson companies. A fourth council member, Vice Mayor Cecily Maniaci, operates restaurants in buildings she leases from Halvorson. Meanwhile, the developers — directly or indirectly — have been the primary financial backers of the campaigns of all five council members, who were swept into office last November following the first election for town council seats. That backing included free trips to Italy and cash “bonuses” for some council members. No one expects the council, which also serves as the town’s planning and zoning commission, to do anything but approve the developers’ schemes.” [High Country News, 06/13/11]

The Town Has Hired BHFS To Help Get Federal Approval For The Development

The Tusayan Town Council Voted Unanimously To Approve Payments To The Lobbying Firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP on September 6, 2017. No Discussion Is Included In The Minutes. “Item 6. A. Accounts Payable Billings Mayor Sanderson questioned an item on page 3 of the Check Register for Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck, LLP, for professional service. Manager Duthie explained that this will be the monthly charge for this firm’s legal representation in Washington, D.C. Councilor Montoya made a motion to approve the Accounts Payable Billings that was seconded by Vice Mayor Wirth. The motion carried unanimously, 4-0.” [Tusayan Town Council Meeting Minutes, 09/06/17

  • Brownstein lobbies Congress, DOI, and USFS on “issues related to infrastructure, housing, and utilities.” [Senate lobbying disclosure database, accessed 09/19/19]
  • Tusayan’s Brownstein lobbyists are Luke Johnson, William McGrath, and Ryan Smith. [Senate lobbying disclosure database, accessed 09/19/19]
  • Tusayan Paid Brownstein $50,000 Per Quarter For the First Three Quarters of 2019 and $40,000 For the Fourth Quarter of 2019. [Senate lobbying disclosure database, accessed 02/06/20]
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