Jim Porter: Grand Canyon — by river or skywalk?
June 20, 2013
By the time you read this column, the Porter family and 16 other North Tahoe/Truckee folks will be rafting down the Grand Canyon for two weeks.
I already have diarrhea just thinking about making it through the roar of Lava Falls (or maybe it's because I am having a colonoscopy tomorrow, but that's a story for another day. I assume you want details.)
While we're heading down the Colorado, the Hualapai Indian Tribe, owners of thousands of acres in and around the Canyon, will be heading into court.
It's a boring jurisdictional court Opinion, but the connection to rafting the Colorado River and this Grand Canyon court case was too good to pass.
Grand Canyon Skywalk
One of the most ill-conceived, hideous development projects known to mankind belongs to the Hualapai Tribe. In order to take advantage of its ownership of a portion of the Grand Canyon rim, high above the Colorado River, the Tribe entered into a grand scheme with Grand Canyon Skywalk Development, LLC, who we will call "Despoiler" in this little column.
Despoiler and the Tribe entered into a series of contracts dating back to 2003, wherein Despoiler would design and build (and share profits with the Tribe) a glass bottom "U" shaped platform extending over the west rim of the Grand Canyon 4,000 feet above the Colorado River. The Tribe got just what it asked for, a cash cow and now a lawsuit.
According to marketing materials, the misplaced "bridge" as it is called, "balances well with the natural surroundings." Balances well if you have utter disregard for natural surroundings.
Balances well as in balancing a checkbook while capitalizing on the natural wonder in your backyard.
Balances well as in unsightly pimple on a movie star's otherwise unblemished face.
Tribe v. Despoiler
As it turns out, Despoiler met its match with the Hualapai Tribe, which sued Despoiler trying to back out of the contract, even condemning the contract under tribal authority so the Tribe would solely own the bridge and accommodate tourists too lazy to visit the Canyon in any sensible way.
Picture busloads of Las Vegas tourists, cameras in hand, traveling over dirt roads ("Why don't they pave this road?") tiptoeing out on the platform with trepidation expressing how lucky they are to be "one with nature," maybe even looking down on the Colorado if they have time before purchasing Canyon "we were there" trinkets.
Oh I just remembered, this column is about a lawsuit. Despoiler attempted to move the Tribe's lawsuit into federal court.
The Tribe, of course, wanted to keep its lawsuit in its own Hualapai Tribal Court where Tribal justice will be done.
As noted, the case involves jurisdiction issues and the Opinion should only be read at night if you have insomnia.
To cut to the chase, the Indians (as they were called in the Opinion) prevailed. Despoiler must exhaust all of the tribal court procedures before it may get its day in federal court.
See you back in a couple of weeks — hopefully.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm's website http://www.portersimon.com.
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