U-TURN: Ak-Chin approves ‘impossible’ permit

Traffic barracades block north bound traffic from Harrah's Ak-Chin on September 11th, 2023. [Bryan Mordt]

After lobbing cease-and-desist letters for more than a year, the Ak-Chin Indian Community has officially abandoned its stance — that the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs needed to give permission to build a stoplight at the intersection of John Wayne and Sonoran Desert Parkways near Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino.

In the wake of a Nov. 1 InMaricopa investigation revealing no such permission was needed, Ak-Chin Community Council this week approved the same permit it denied last year.

Just a few weeks ago, Ak-chin labeled the permit unlawful when tribal police nearly staged a mass arrest of municipal workers.

Ak-Chin didn’t invest any money in the $30 million parkway meant to funnel drivers to the casino’s front door. Its efforts to delay completing the decade-long Sonoran Desert Parkway project cost Maricopa thousands of taxpayer dollars per day, city officials confirmed.

After learning Ak-Chin would shoulder the cost of a traffic light to access its casino if it did not comply with county- and state-level permits allowing the city to work there, community leaders about-faced on their claims those permits weren’t legitimate.

“It’s the same permit that was submitted [October] 2022,” said Maricopa Mayor Nancy Smith. “There was no BIA permit needed, no additional permit needed. The newly approved permit is the exact one that was denied last year when the first cease and desist letter was sent.”

After pleading its hands were tied at the mercy of the federal government, Ak-Chin last month ditched that narrative and came up with a “workaround” that required the city to provide meticulous details about its workers. Vice Mayor Rich Vitiello said it was “impossible” to provide such details.

Now, Ak-Chin has ditched the “workaround,” too, and approved the permit it said just last month would violate federal law.

The traffic light will be installed late this month or next month, Smith said. Ak-Chin still won’t pay for it.