Too little and too late

  Dear HCN,

A little comment about your story on the sacred and profane colliding in the West (HCN, 5/26/97). I'm old enough to remember that when the Bureau of Reclamation was promoting Glen Canyon Dam and the resulting reservoir, which it called the "Jewel of the Colorado," the Bureau strongly argued that now, people would have easy access to Rainbow Bridge. "They could float right under it."

In pre-Dambrian time, entry to the monument was only by way of a 90-mile float trip from Hite and then a boulder-hopping walk up Aztec and Bridge creeks. Alternatively, one could approach over land around and somewhat over Black Mountain, a more daunting enterprise.

David Brower and the Sierra Club, et al, fought tooth and nail to keep the reservoir from inundating the canyon beneath the bridge, eventually obtaining a specific prohibition in the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act that no reservoir could invade the 160-acre monument. To achieve this, of course, would require the erection of a dam to keep the reservoir out. Environmentalists lost interest in the approved scheme, deciding that, on balance, flooding of the monument was preferable.

During the protracted battle to obtain the protective works clause in the 1956 legislation, local Indians were nowhere to be seen or heard. The sacredness issue would certainly have added an arrow or two to the environmentalists' quiver. Furthermore, the Navajos held a huge bargaining chip because the feds would have to make a deal with them to obtain the needed property on Manson Mesa to build the Bureau's new village and the necessary haul roads. Then, year after year, the Congress uniformly failed to appropriate the $20 million needed to build the Rainbow Bridge Dam. Despite the environmentalists' lesser-of-evils decision not to press for the needed appropriation, there was nothing to prevent the affected tribe(s) from asserting the sacred site issue. The lawsuit cited in the article, brought by eight individual Navajos and three of the Navajo Nations' chapters in 1974, 10 years after the reservoir began to fill and three years after it first invaded the monument, was far too little and too late.

As for the Park Service, it is now intimidating citizens to keep them out of the very place that was used to justify the monstrous reservoir back in the "50s.

Steven M. Hannon

Denver, Colorado

Steven Hannon is a lawyer and writer whose novel on Glen Canyon is about to be published.