The top stories in and around the Grand Canyon and Tusayan, year 2011 review
Saturday, 31 December 2011 13:12
Uberuaga was Superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state, a post he held for the past nine years. During that time, he served for more than
a year as Acting Superintendent of Yosemite National Park. He has been in the federal service for 37 years and has been with the National Park Service since 1984.
Uberuaga has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Idaho. Among his many awards, he is the recipient of the National Parks Conservation Association's Stephen Tyng Mather Award for promoting environmental preservation in parks; the Department of Interior Cooperative Conservation Award; and the Department of Interior Superior Service Award. In 2008, he was named Federal Land Manger of the year by the Department of Interior.
Stepping into his new post, the Idaho native can find many similarities between national parks, even though at four and a half million users, Grand Canyon shuttle operations are larger than any other in the national park service.
"My most recent bigger challenge was to go to Yosemite for 15 months as the acting superintendent and if you can imagine that big operation, I walked into my office and there wasn't a piece of paper anywhere," Uberuaga said. "There were no instructions, and they tell me, 'welcome to Yosemite, here are all the problems.' So you step into that and you learn from that as well."
People have asked Uberuaga the difference between Yosemite and Rainer, to which he simply responds that Rainer's waterfalls aren't as spectacular. That's where the differences end. Just like working at the Grand Canyon, operations are on a larger scale, with added responsibilities.
"They have really cool waterfalls at Yosemite, but when you talk about emergency medical services, rescue rangers, public affairs, basic business operations of the park, they are all parallel," he said. "It is just more numbers, more headaches, and more visitors. It is the challenge of making it work in a larger setting."
For example, the GCNP fire program is something Uberuaga describes as "night and day." At Rainer, forest fires were few and far between. But here at the Canyon, a fire is experienced almost every day during fire season.
"Whether it is fire or shuttle operations, one of the key tie-ins here is that we have really good, smart people running those programs," he said. "You have to makes sure you have the right staff in there."
As a national icon, the Grand Canyon creates a lot of visibility. Uberuaga said there are many stakeholders and entities involved with the Canyon that, on a daily basis, he must communicate with and develop healthy working relationships.
Whether they are neighboring tribes, towns, or commercial partners, finding common ground and creating a balance, which is in the best interest of everyone concerned, is an ongoing challenge.
"You really have to learn each individual tribe and their interest and understand that and that relationship and it is very very important for the success of the park," he said. "At the same time, there are 11 affiliated tribes. Their perspective is that it should be the park superintendent or the manager dealing with them and not anyone else, unless it is some day-to-day things that we worked out."
Uberagua said at Rainer there were five tribes he associated with. At the Canyon, however, there are 11, and each with a different perspective on their relationship with the Park Service.
"The tribes here seem to be more tied to the land than where I was," Uberuaga said. "So no one was operating inside the boundary of Mt. Rainer National Park. Here, we have all of the bordering tribal relations."
Another issue facing the park is the relationship with dam operations and power.
"You have the Colorado River and all the dam operations and everyone worrying about power and power sources that generates electricity," he said. "And then you have those who want to make sure when the water gets to them in California, or Phoenix or whoever is relying on that water, and then you have the park trying to protect and preserve the resource."
He went on to say that not all of those entities are in harmony with each other. Interests are complex when trying to protect a natural resource and serve multiple users.
"How do we come together better to find a better balance? I think that's a huge issue, a challenge, and a vision for me to work harder and closer to try and do that," he said. "I want to make sure we have a great working relationships with all of our stakeholders and partners we as a staff invest a lot of time in making sure I can pick up the phone and call any commissioner, any deputy, any mayor and communicate."
As well as relationships with water operations, controversial issues surrounding the natural wonder like uranium mining and overflight management are not only complicated, but are ongoing, Uberuaga said.
"When you walk into the office and you see several feet of paper of just the uranium issue or just the overflight issues, each and every one of them you could write multiple PhD's on if you wanted too and most of them have court challenges tied to them.
There are economics involved and there are jobs involved tourism and mining. A large group came through and did an economic impact analysis, to say well, this is a question of withdrawal of lands from mining and in that case, what would be the potential mining jobs lost and what would be the potential of jobs gained by tourism and what is the trade off," he said, adding that it isn't what just one interest wants, but all of them, which gets complicated very fast.
"Some of these issues cost millions and millions of dollars, and still haven't come to a collective decision. You have to work really hard to find that common ground and finesse, if you will, some consensus on any one of these really difficult issues. People are embedded in it. This is their version of it and they don't always see, as myself, that other side as well as they need to, that is the challenge."
But as far as Grand Canyon visitors go, how do you balance out their enjoyment and still maintain and protect the natural beauty of the canyon? The answer has been a fundamental challenge for each manager who has come before Uberuaga, and it's not going away any time soon.
At the end of the day, it is the majesty and power of the Grand Canyon, above all else, Uberuaga said the Park Service strives to maintain.
"That first look over the Canyon is a very powerful one, and we want to try and make that as special as we can for the visitor," he said.
ADOT begins Tusayan Highway 64 safety enhancement project
On July 18, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) started construction on State Route (SR) 64 and enhancements along the roadway. ADOT easements will run a hundred feet each way from the highway's centerline and will affect local business owners by encroaching 68 feet past the curb with construction material and excavation.
During a public meeting on July 20, representatives from ADOT presented their final plan for SR 64, which is set to be completed in the summer of 2012.
Work on the road will include widening the present five-lane divided highway to allow for raised center medians and bus pullouts. ADOT also plans to construct two roundabout intersections to bring down traffic speed.
Road improvements will include construction of new sidewalks, granite paths, decorative signage and landscaping.
Bus pullouts on the east side of the road will be constructed in front of the Grand Hotel and in front of IMAX at the west side of town. The roundabouts will be located at South Long Jim Loop and Coyote Lane.
Jason Fann, from Fann Contracting, said businesses could feel the impact not only through limited access to and from their establishments, but also along the greenway areas where ADOT will be enhancing sidewalks, landscape and driveways.
"Fortunately enough, there are a lot of two-way accesses into the business parking lots so that helps negotiate traffic a little easier and we can still have full time traffic access to the areas when some of those closures occur," he said.
Fann said the job is going to be broken out into phases.
"When I talk about phases it is in relation to the impact to traffic," he said. "We are going to be initially shutting down the eastern side of the southern portion of the highway and this will be shut down from a traffic lane standpoint."
Phase One of construction ended early October. ADOT plans to widen SR 64 between South Long Jim Loop and Coyote Lane, and pullout for shuttle buses will also be constructed. Construction of the east segment of the southern roundabout and west portion of the north roundabout plan to be completed as well.
Phase Two, which began in mid September and ended early November, included the widening of 64 in the same area as Phase one and bus pullout construction. The west portion of the south roundabout and east portion of the north roundabout will began construction as well.
Phase Three, which will consist of construction on raised medians and landscaping between S. Long Jim Loop and Coyote Lane will begin in the spring.
"We did want to make sure that everyone understands that it is not just roundabouts and street improvements, it's improvements all the way to the right of way lane outside of the existing highway," Fann said.
Phase Four will entail the application of a final layer of asphalt to the roadway and final road striping will be finished.
Grand Canyon School District secures over $700,000 for energy-efficiency project
The Grand Canyon Unified School District (GCUSD) secured financing for an energy-efficiency project to reduce the district's carbon footprint by the equivalent of 100 trees annually. GCS teamed up with MidState Energy out of Phoenix to spearhead the project.
"For us this is huge," GCS Superintendent Sharyl Allen said. "It is environmentally friendly and saves the district money on utilities as well."
The new system will save the school $70,000 a year.
Allen said the success of securing the funding was largely due to the persistent efforts of the school's Business Manager Frankie Armstrong,
GCS officials thought they were on track to obtain funding in May, but hit some unexpected barriers early on.
"The project, which had been derailed due to federal regulations for the park and for lenders, left the district in an abyss," Allen said.
But, with the help of Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) Superintendent Dave Uberuaga, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis approved a ten-year special-use permit and Zions Bank agreed to finance the project, allowing GCS to finally move forward as planned.
"Working with NPS Director Jarvis, we were able to obtain approval to extend Grand Canyon School's existing five year permit to a 10-year permit which allowed them to meet the requirements necessary to obtain financing for the project," Uberuaga said.
Special-use permits allow entities like GCS to operate on federal lands. The school's permit allows them to conduct their daily operations within GCNP.
Uberuaga said because the park is "climate friendly," park officials applaud GCS's efforts to improve their energy efficiency and decrease the Grand Canyon community's carbon footprint.
"I am particularly enthusiastic about the school's efforts as they will serve as an example to our youth, incorporating energy efficiency and sustainability into their daily lives," Uberuaga said.
GCS Transportation and Maintenance Director Andrew Aldaz said GCS will use the funding to improve the efficiency of many of the school's utilities. The biggest project will be revamping the boilers - increasing their efficiency from 70 percent to 94 percent.
Aldaz hopes the project will see completion in January and said benefits would likely be seen immediately. If GCS doesn't see the energy savings MidState Energy promises in their contract, MidState will make up the cost difference.(Grand Canyon News)