Ranch owner, federal government fail to reach agreement in dispute over paving road to Skywalk

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – A daylong attempt to resolve a dispute over paving the road to the Grand Canyon Skywalk ended without an agreement.

Nigel Turner, who owns a tourist ranch along Diamond Bar Road, wants a chance to review the road plans and assurances that the project will include elements such as fencing, cattle guards, underpasses and entrances to his property. Those amenities were agreed upon in the 2007 settlement of a federal lawsuit he filed over the project, he said.

The federal government contends that Turner never was given the right to approve road designs and has improperly built on the government’s easement.

The two sides met Thursday in mediation but left without coming to agreement. The impasse means a federal judge could hear a request from Turner for a temporary restraining order to halt the road project for at least 30 days. A hearing date hasn’t been set.

“Why would I want damage to my land and that beautiful property instead of sitting down for 30 days and talking and doing it correctly?” Turner said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Federal officials declined to comment.

Diamond Bar is the primary road tourists take to reach the Grand Canyon Skywalk and Turner’s ranch, though there are less desirable alternatives.

About 4.5 miles of the road was paved in 2010. The remaining 9 miles of dirt and gravel road is being paved. It is being realigned in some areas and will run partly adjacent to Turner’s ranch. Construction began earlier this year.

Under the 2007 settlement, the entire road was to be complete within four years, or the one-mile stretch on Turner’s property no longer could be used for public access, he said.

Bob Taylor, Mohave County’s chief civil deputy attorney, said it’s unclear whether the road automatically reverted to Turner.

“Certain procedural steps must be taken to abandon a road,” he said. “The dispute can be whether or not the settlement agreement that was approved by the board of supervisors is self-executing. Was that a sufficient ministerial step to effect the abandonment at that point without further board action?”

Meanwhile, Turner has set up a checkpoint on the road, and it’s manned by his staff and hired security guards. Turner is charging tourists what he calls an entry fee to his western ranch that includes an hourly rodeo show, gun range, museum and other activities.

Turner said he would have begun charging the $20-per-person fee more than a year ago had he realized the time to build the new road under the settlement had expired.

“I’m not changing that, because I believe it’s fair,” he said. “My land has been abused for 13 years. Beside the road, there’s beer bottles, trash, they stop and take pictures of my ranch, my cowboys, and they don’t pay a penny.”

The Hualapai Tribe, which owns the Skywalk, said Turner shouldn’t be taking advantage of tourists who have no intention of going to his ranch. Tribal Vice Chairman Philbert Watahomigie said the tribe would work to create a temporary dirt roadway that would bypass the checkpoint.

The tribe also has called on Mohave County officials to intervene so that tourists can freely drive on the current road, which the tribe argues is a public thoroughfare.

“To continue to allow a private citizen to use armed guards to stop tourists and charge a toll is unthinkable,” said tribal spokesman Dave Cieslak.