Showdown at the Four Corners

  Visitors to the Southwest know the Four Corners Monument as a bleak, dusty site that tourists flee once they’ve snapped a photo on the slab where four states come together. But that could all change with a proposed $4 million expansion project.

Four years ago, Congress authorized $2 million to build an interpretive center, permanent vendor booths and flush toilets. That federal funding, though, is contingent on a $500,000 matching contribution from each of the Four Corners states. Arizona, Utah and New Mexico have already kicked in their shares, but Colorado refuses to pony up.

The monument, which now sits on the Navajo Reservation, would also be expanded onto the Ute Mountain Reservation, and be jointly operated by the two tribes. Rep. Mark Larson, R-Cortez, opposes the expansion because of what he calls the “predatory” business practices of the Utes, who operate a casino and several nearby businesses. The tribe’s truck stop, for instance, offers free meals to commercial drivers, a deal that Cortez eateries 12 miles north cannot match, he says. He also objects to spending state revenues on a tribal facility that, because of the reservations’ sovereign-nation status, will not pay state taxes.

But Manuel Heart, a Ute Mountain tribal council member, says the monument would benefit the entire area, and notes that American Indians pay local taxes when they shop off the reservation. He says the interpretive center would educate visitors about Native American culture: “We have foreigners going to the monument thinking there’s Indians living in tepees.”

In the meantime, Colorado’s severance-tax fund is frozen as the state battles a budget crisis. If the state’s contribution is not received by Sept. 30, Congress may drop its funding.
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