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Tribe that owns Skywalk repeals eminent domain law

FILE - This March 28, 2007 file photo shows tourists walking on the glass-bottomed Skywalk. A northwestern Arizona tribe has voted to declare eminent domain over the Grand Canyon Skywalk. A tribal spokesman says the Tribal Council voted Feb.7, 2012 to sever a contract with Las Vegas developer David Jin and take over management of the Skywalk. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Rob Schumacher, File)

FLAGSTAFF — A northwestern Arizona tribe that used its eminent domain ordinance to take over management of the Grand Canyon Skywalk has repealed that ordinance less than a year after it was enacted.

The Hualapai Tribal Council voted 5-3 over the weekend in favor of repealing the ordinance, which allowed the tribe to seize tangible and intangible property for public use. But council members say it doesn’t affect the tribe’s decision to cut Las Vegas developer David Jin out of managing the popular tourist attraction.

“The tribe is still in control of the Skywalk, we’re still managing it and will continue to manage the Skywalk,” councilman Charlie Vaughn told The Associated Press.

The vote came as the two sides await a decision from a federal judge on Jin’s request for a temporary restraining order to keep the tribe from condemning his contractual rights to the Skywalk. The tribe has asked U.S. District Judge David Campbell to deny the request, saying that tribal court is the proper venue for such disputes.

Campbell heard oral arguments on Jin’s request last month but asked for additional information over whether the defendants, who include tribal councilmembers, acted in bad faith in asserting tribal court jurisdiction. Exhaustion of remedies in the Hualapai court in Peach Springs isn’t required if the bad faith exception is proved.

One of Jin’s attorneys, Troy Eid, said Wednesday that he hasn’t seen any of the documents that back up the tribal council’s vote but believes the action supports Jin’s arguments.

The tribe used its eminent domain ordinance once since it was passed last April, and that was to sever ties with Jin, who invested $30 million to build the horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the Grand Canyon on the reservation. The tribe signed a revenue-sharing and management agreement with Jin in 2003, but both sides claim the other isn’t upholding its end of the contract.

Tribal chairwoman Louise Benson said Wednesday that she campaigned to repeal the eminent domain ordinance and resolve the dispute with Jin. She pointed to a history in which the federal government moved Hualapai people off their ancestral land in saying she didn’t want the tribe a repeat of that.

“My belief is it’s not good for my tribe, my people, at all,” she said. “It was only meant for one individual, and I felt that was wrong.”

Vaughn, who voted against the repeal, said the tribe’s authority to take property lies in the tribal constitution. The ordinance enhanced that provision by providing for just compensation, the ability to bring challenges in tribal court before a Hualapai judge, and it strengthens tribal sovereignty, he said.

“We do have that authority, and it’s problematic down the road if we try to apply that authority without a clear process is place, and that’s what the ordinance provided,” he said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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