Jul 10, 2015 - Gila River Indian Community Files Lawsuit Over Proposed Path of South Mountain Freeway



David Leibowitz

Gila River Indian Community Files Lawsuit Against FHA, ADOT Over Proposed Path of South Mountain Freeway

Sacaton, AZ – The Gila River Indian Community (the “Community”) filed a lawsuit today challenging the recent decision by the Federal Highway Administration and the Arizona Department of Transportation to build the South Mountain Freeway along a path that borders the Community and that runs directly through the South Mountain, land that is sacred to Community members.

According to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Phoenix, federal and state agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Department of Transportation Act by failing to consider adequately the significant harm the freeway would inflict on the environment and on historical and cultural resources.

As Governor Stephen Roe Lewis explains: “South Mountain, or Muhadagi Doag, is one of the Community’s most important and sacred natural resources. It is a prominent part of the Community’s oral traditions and ceremonial activities, all of which are tied to the natural environment. The proposed freeway would destroy parts of three ridges of South Mountain and also would destroy or alter many trails, shrines, and archaeological sites that constitute significant cultural resources for the Community and its members.”

The Community’s lawsuit also alleges that the agencies ignored their obligations to avoid or mitigate harm to the environment and to the public health, safety, and welfare of its members. It further asserts that the agencies lacked authority to select the chosen route because that route trespasses over Community land, specifically three wells held in trust for the benefit of the Community by the United States.

The Community has filed a motion to transfer and consolidate its action with another lawsuit brought by local citizens and groups challenging the freeway on similar grounds. That case is currently pending in the District Court before Judge Diane Humetewa.

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The Gila River Indian Community is nestled between the Estrella and Sacaton Mountain ranges on 372,000 acres in south-central Arizona. Gila River is home to the indigenous people of the Akimel Oodham (Pima) and the Pee Posh (Maricopa). The people are known for their farms, deep traditions, basket weaving and pottery. The Tribe is comprised of seven districts, Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches of government and numerous programs that serve the 20,000 plus members who reside on and off the reservation. 100% of gaming and the Tribes 17 other Enterprise profits are utilized by the community providing services and opportunities to achieve the highest quality of life.

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