Originally Published at No South Mountain Freeway. Republished here with permission.
Report Back From our Recent Information Session in Laveen
On Tuesday, July 23rd, the No South Mountain Freeway group held an informational meeting at the Laveen Cesar Chavez Public Library. The meting was held to provide a space in Laveen where information regarding the proposed expansion of the Loop 202 could be presented from a No Build perspective. Needless to say, finding opposition to the expansion of the Loop 202 in Laveen may seem like a finding a needle in a haystack. However, resistance has been multiplying as access to freeway resistance increases; all of the voices against the freeway remain sharp and to the point… No Loop 202!
(To view a copy of our handout which includes an updated timeline and articles pertaining to resistance to the freeway please click here or the image below.)
Even after recent Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) public meetings hosted by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), the people of Laveen still desire more information regarding the Freeway, especially pertaining to impacts the freeway would bring to their once small farm town village. During the round of introductions to our presentation, nearly every attendee expressed they were there to obtain more information. One family who seemed frustrated with the freeway’s nearly 30-year stalemate was willing to listen to the No-Freeway side even though they lean toward the build stance. The attendee’s farm is located within extremely close proximity to the freeway’s Right-of-Way (the area in which the state could attempt to exercise their use of eminent domain to apprehend property for the route’s expansion). The family has been attempting to determine if their farm was in the crossfire of the Right-of-Way.
Part of the presentation focused on “Eminent Domain and Property Rights,” both being areas in which we continue to research in further detail. It has been and continues to be our uncompromising stance to resist any expansion of the freeway; we don’t want ADOT’s use of eminent domain to reach the point of Property Acquisition. However, a veil of mystery as thick as the summer smog continues to leave the common persyn a bit in the dark when it comes to understanding the actual process of acquisition. Hence our feeling the need to present on the subject as there are property owners and tenants that wish to better understand this process that looms before them.
At the recent DEIS public hearing meetings held by ADOT throughout the valley, there were two publications by the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration: the first on Acquisition and the second on Relocation. The presentation reviewed the purpose and the process outlined in these publications. The Acquisition publication is all about “Just Compensation” and reviews that process. According to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, “private property may not be taken for public use without just compensation.” Once acquisition has occurred, (the Relocation publication goes over this process) Property owners and tenants are entitled to the protection of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970; amended in 1987, otherwise referred to as the Uniform Act. The Uniform Act’s purpose is to provide fair and equitable treatment for those displaced from property.
Through the Acquisition process, if an agency and property owner cannot come to an agreement on just compensation, then the agency practices its use of eminent domain. Eminent domain laws vary from state to state, and the Arizona Eminent Domain laws can be found online, scroll down to Chapter 8: Special Actions and Proceedings Relating to Property, Article 2.
We hope to continue to distribute this information to the public, especially to those along the direct route and surrounding communities. Eminent Domain Laws are immensely complicated and convoluted. The need for quality legal counsel continues to grow. If you would like to participate in any part of this process such as researching the laws, lawyers, and going to the directly affected areas, please contact us.
Background on No South Mountain Freeway group’s intervention with freeway expansion in Laveen
The No South Mountain Freeway group is not a stranger to Laveen. The first time members of our group helped give a boost to the no-expansion voice in Laveen was at an event hosted by Michael Nowokowski on February 23, 2012. The Ahwatukee Foothills news published the article, Pangea releases Loop 202 plan on tribal allotted land, which covered both the Pro-Build and No-Build sides of the event. Two No-Build supporters were even interviewed by the Ahwatukee Foothills News regarding the freeway. Earlier that morning, a press conference was held along the proposed route by both councilman Nowakowski and Joseph Perez of the Pro-Build Limited Liability Corporation Pangea.
Perhaps the more significant event which happened that month was the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) vote against the freeway, which occurred only two weeks prior to the press conference. After GRIC voted in favor of the “No Build Option”, off-the-reservation freeway supporters were left scrambling to attempt to push the freeway along Pecos Road and then through South Mountain while on the reservation, Perez formed a landowner’s group which began to petition GRIC to rescind the previous 2012 No-Build vote and extend the freeway through GRIC. Currently Pangea is lying low after a GRIC Police investigation found a large numbers of their petition signatures to have been fraudulently gained.
On April 22nd of 2012, we hosted an Earth Day event at the Laveen Library. This event was our initial insight to confusion of residents regarding the freeway. Out of that meeting, we realized the need to compile all of ADOT’s route maps and begin to really understand the route maps so we could help dispel the confusion.
Jumping back into 2013, after having more protests in the downtown Phoenix area and supporting events in GRIC, more recently we brought all of our tabling materials and set up shop at the May 16th Pro-202 event hosted by Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski and State Representative Ruben Gallego. Also in attendance were members of the Akimel O’odham Youth Council. And again, The No South Mountain Freeway group was mentioned in the Ahwatukee Foothills news article, Laveen residents gather to organize support for South Mountain Freeway:
“Members of the Gila River Indian Community and the No South Mountain Freeway group also attended the meeting to protest the freeway and ask some uncomfortable questions of Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski and State Rep. Ruben Gallego, who hosted the meeting.
Gallego and Nowakowski admitted having a personal interest in the freeway being built.”
This next brings us to the two most recent events in Laveen being the ADOT Public Meeting Hearing and our most recent event at the library. While handing out fliers for our library event at the public meeting, two members of our group were approached by a plain-clothed persyn with an earpiece who tried to stop the members before they entered the meeting to tell them ground rules. Upon the request to identify himself, he quickly flashed a business card yet refused to give us one and after one member began to film the incident, the “mystery officer” refused to identify himself and walked away to only stare at the two members of the group from across the building. Despite intimidation tactics to force us out to the parking lot, we were able to gather information from families affected by the freeway and inform about our event.
On July 24th of this year, the public comment window closed and a 90-day period begins to review the comments by ADOT. One cannot disagree the significance that the comments to the Environmental Impact Statement Report carry. Yet, how much weight do they carry when it comes to the overall system of transportation running rampant through Arizona. It is not that there are flaws within the insufficiently prepared EIS, it is that the state has allowed this project which originated in the early 80’s to coast into the year 2013 without having much of the public criticism applied to its proposed expansion.
The No South Mountain Freeway group has helped organize protests at the meetings of the Maricopa Association of Governments and the Citizens Transportation Oversight Committee as well as making office visits to HDR and politicians that are complicit with the expansion of the Loop 202. While we support the public participation within the comment period, we know that it does not end there and that it will not end the needless expansion either.
Further speaking on the Draft EIS, we suggest researching the legal efforts of Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children (PARC) as they garner resources and strategies to take ADOT to court over a flawed EIS. And even more recently, the GRIC-based group Gila River for a Clean Environment (GRACE) has filed a civil suite with ADOT pertaining to cultural impacts that were overlooked within the EIS.
There was no hesitation when it came to naming our group “No South Mountain Freeway!” That is due to the fact that our goal has been to point out the colonial origins of expanding the freeway on to the Gila River reservation, holding those supporting the freeway’s expansion accountable to the public and supporting those whom are most affected by the freeway. We continue to venture out to all regions of the Valley where individuals and groups of people are resisting the freeway, whether it be through protest, research, or the organizing of informational sessions such as our last, we uncompromisingly stand beside No-Build as the only option for this freeway.