Published May 13, 2016
Community leaders, members seek summary judgment on lawsuit arguing state, federal agencies violated law in siting Loop 202 freeway project
SACATON, ARIZONA – The Gila River Indian Community continues to work through the federal legal system in an attempt to prevent the desecration of sacred South Mountain – Muhadagi Doag – by the new extension of the Loop 202 freeway. In court Wednesday, May 11, 2016, before U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa, attorneys for the Community asked that summary judgment be granted in its lawsuit versus the Federal Highway Administration and the Arizona Department of Transportation.
“South Mountain – Muhadagi Doag to the people of the Gila River Indian Community – isn’t simply a few acres of land to us,” said Gov. Stephen R. Lewis. “The mountain is one of our most important, most sacred resources. The Loop 202 extension as planned will destroy parts of three ridges of the mountain and destroy or alter trails, shrines and archaeological sites that are significant cultural resources for our Community.”
The Community’s lawsuit – which has been consolidated with a second lawsuit brought by members of Protecting Arizona’s Resources and Children (PARC) – argues that federal and state agencies violated federal law (specifically Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act) by approving a freeway location that would desecrate South Mountain (Muhadagi Doag) and by following a process that did not give proper consideration to the Community’s unique interests.
The lawsuit 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 these agencies lacked the 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.