A proposed expansion of the Grand Canyon National Park Airport in Tusayan has been canceled by the Arizona Department of Transportation. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, the move comes after years of skepticism on the part of conservation groups and officials at Grand Canyon National Park.
The nearly $20 million expansion would have allowed the ADOT-owned airport to accommodate large commercial passenger flights. With the expansion the agency sought to increase revenue at the struggling airport.
But, conservation groups like the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club raised concerns that the development would do irreparable environmental harm to Grand Canyon. The damage would come in the form of overflight noise and a water well that was part of the development deal. The groups said tapping area aquifers would deplete spring flows along the South Rim of Grand Canyon, affecting area ecosystems. Alicyn Gitlin, conservation coordinator for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, has long opposed the airport development.
“This was a huge concern to us and to the Park Service because the well would have extracted about 30 gallons a minute, and all of the main springs between Indian Garden and Cottonwood Creek within Grand Canyon National Park – they have a flow of just about 30 gallons a minute. So, it would have been extracting about the same amount of flow of all the springs in that portion of the park,” Gitlin said.
Officials with Grand Canyon National Park also opposed airport growth. In multiple letters to ADOT, Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga claimed Grand Canyon’s already-strained resources simply could not accommodate the increased visitation a larger airport would bring. He also brought up overflight noise concerns near the Bright Angel Flight-Free Zone in Grand Canyon.
ADOT is now proposing only internal remodeling to the airport to accommodate security needs. An ADOT spokesperson also said the agency will still move ahead with plans to eventually build a replacement terminal.