Monument quest continues
Working quietly, coalition regroups using research and partnerships
VERDE VALLEY -- It began quietly as an effort to protect the natural beauty of Red Rock country. It ended with a brawl at a public meeting and a snub by Sedona City Council. Yet even though the Sedona Verde Valley Red Rock National Monument coalition may have suspended its public meetings and town hall presentations, it nonetheless forged ahead un-detoured- - but this time, under the radar.
After a 6-1 vote by Sedona City Council declining to support the monument, the coalition took a breather from public outreach. It knew that in order to have public support for 160,000 (reduced to 80,000) acres of Verde Valley proclaimed and managed as a national monument, some triage was in order.
"There was a real re-assessment of what's happening so far and what to do about it, some quiet research going on, looking at what are all the opponents arguing about," said Neil Bethell Sinclair, president of Save Our Ancient Red Rocks, the coalition's lead fiduciary non-profit organization.
"We counted 22 objections, most of them not germane; kind of like, 'This is possible but we can't prove it's not possible.' It's like a defense attorney who only has to introduce doubt into one juror to get a client off," he said. "You had a small but vocal group mobilizing the opposition. The real estate industry was one."
"So we engaged in meeting with different stakeholder. There was a period of research, of public outreach, as a result of this there has been some changes made to the proposal," Sinclair said (see sidebar).
Although Sinclair is relatively new to the movement, his expertise in the political landscape is not.
"I was just driving down 179, thinking, 'There's a reason why this is one of the most popular places in the world. It hit me that these places need to be protected. I've had some political experience. Maybe I should help.'"
"Occasionally I see comments online saying, 'All they have to do is put it through to President Obama and he signs it.' That's a bit naive on how the government works. It's actually quite a process," said Sinclair.
National monument movement never stopped
Former network TV journalist Nancy Brown continues her active efforts with the coalition at seeking national monument protection for the area that she calls home. In fact, she never stopped.
"A lot of people scrambled to protect land because Congress isn't doing that kind of work anymore," said Brown.
Even when faced with a rapidly dissipating presidential term that may be key to Presidential Proclamation of the Sedona Verde Valley Red Rock National Monument, Brown hasn't hit the panic button quite yet.
"You don't know what the future will be. It doesn't make any difference at all. This effort is an ongoing effort," Brown said.
"The most heavily visited park in the Coconino National Forest is the Red Rock District. It's been a goal to get permanent protection of just 4 percent - - that little sliver - - for 28 years," said Brown. "This is just one more effort to try and get this done. My personal hope is that my grandchild someday could enjoy this place like I do."
Fighting for principle
Those fortunate enough to find a seat during the packed Oct. 13 Sedona City Council meeting had a rare glimpse of principle in action. Although the audiences heard several council members voice their support for the intent of the monument, when it came time to vote, a quick about-face occurred. A resolution of the Mayor and City Council of Sedona urging President Barack Obama to designate 160,000 acres as the Sedona Verde Valley Red Rock National Monument failed in a 6 to 1 vote.
And who was that lone dissenting council member?
Angela LeFevre, who just prior to voting said "The residents here need to make a statement that we are concerned about what could happen here."
While disappointed with the vote, LeFevre remains conciliatory.
"They just didn't know. I think it was just easier to vote no than yes. A lot of people didn't know what designation meant," she said.
While her term on council may have ended - - she resigned to put her energies elsewhere less than three months later- - she never stopped working for the cause that she believed in. LeFevre is now Chairperson for the Sedona Verde Valley Red Rock National Monument coalition.
"It's not defeated, as such. They decided more or less at the time to do further research for the outreach and report back," said LeFevre.
"Nothing's done yet. The proposal is still being worked on and it is hoped that the president can sign it and that's one of the goals but first we've got outreach to get some feedback," LeFevre said.
"This is one thing I don't want to let go of," said LeFevre. "If I can get this through, this can be a fulfillment of many years."As part of its regrouping to better reflect public sentiment, the Sedona Verde Valley Red Rock National Monument coalition re-tweaked its mission. According to the website www.sedonaverdevalleyredrocknationalmonument.org, changes include:
Reduced size - "The 80,000 acres of the Wilderness Areas have been taken out, as they already have a higher level of protection than a National Monument."
Increased support - "Our grass roots citizens' support keeps growing; as of this date, we have surpassed our initial target of 10,000 petition signatures of support. Our new goal is 15,000 signatures." The site also states, "In the recent 2015 Colorado College poll, 65 percent of Arizonans support permanent protection of their public lands."
Land exchange or sale included - Concerns over the outlawing of forest service land exchange or sale have been addressed by inserting the Townsite Act into the proposal. "The Townsite Act allows the sale of monument lands for townsite purposes to counties, cities or other local governmental subdivisions."
Sedona support - "The 2014 Sedona Community Plan, voted on by the electorate, called permanent protection of the Forest one of its highest priorities."
Changes in leadership - "A new Sedona-Verde Valley environmental 501(c)3 organization , called Save Our Ancient RedRocks (SOAR) is the Coalition's lead fiduciary non-profit organization."
-- Tom Tracey