July 2, 2004
A Maricopa County plan to sell 1,200 acres of park land to the Gila River Indian Community could be the best way to protect sensitive areas from defilement, say park activists in northern Pinal County.
The residents, many of whom live near the San Tan Mountains Regional Park, say they will meet to help work out critical details such as whether the public will have limited access to the land after it is sold.
Meanwhile, some area municipal leaders are still irked that they were not included in the sale negotiations. Gilbert has proposed a resolution urging Maricopa County officials to hold more public meetings before voting on the proposed sale.
Maricopa County officials announced Monday that they have negotiated a deal to sell the park’s "south finger," purchased by the county from the Resolution Trust Corporation in 1992, to the nearby Gila River community for $8 million.
The county’s Parks and Recreation Commission recommended approval to the Board of Supervisors, which has yet to schedule a vote on the matter.
Regina Whitman, who lives near the park and is involved in several conservation groups, said the sale would benefit park patrons, the Indian community and the land itself.
"The Gila River Indian Community has given its verbal guarantee that this land will never be developed, resold, have a casino on it or any other development," Whitman wrote in an e-mail Thursday.
Whitman added that the land would become part of a wild horse preserve and create a buffer between people and American Indian archaeological sites in the area. It also would generate money that would go directly to park improvements for everyone to enjoy, she said.
Park activist Gordon Brown said the majority of area residents wouldn’t support the sale agreement unless they would have limited access to the south finger. They hope to meet with county and Gila River officials to negotiate a solution, such as dividing the land into accessible and inaccessible areas, he said.
Gila River economic development planner Larry Stephenson said the tribe has been negotiating under the impression that the land would not be open to the public.
Gilbert officials have criticized the county for planning the sale without consulting park stakeholders. The Town Council will vote Tuesday on a resolution urging the supervisors to "take more meaningful public input and hear from member committees" before making its decision.