Babbitt Retained Interest in Grand Canyon Project: Promised to Back Away from All Matters on Development

Article excerpt

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt remained involved in a major tourist project at the entrance to the Grand Canyon despite an earlier pledge to recuse himself, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.

Mr. Babbitt was a consultant to the Canyon Forest Village before he was appointed Interior Secretary in 1993, but four years later said he intended to recuse himself from all matters concerning the development.

Although the development and federal land exchange is under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service and Agriculture Department, not the Park Service and Interior Department, Mr. Babbitt said he would still would not be involved.

However, an e-mail between two Forest Service officials states that Mr. Babbitt requested they keep him informed of the development's progress "every step of the way" and he also approved the environmental impact statement (EIS).

Mr. Babbitt wanted the Grand Canyon park planner to "keep David Hayes, attorney for Babbitt, informed every step of the way in order to provide good council [sic]. So . . . my question is . . . who will give Forest Service good council [sic]?" Kaibab Forest Supervisor Conny Frisch wrote to the regional office.

Mr. Hayes was special counsel to Mr. Babbitt at the time, and was recently nominated by President Clinton to be deputy secretary of Interior. His nomination will be voted on today by members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"Good news! Apparently two counselors for Secretary Babbitt found that the Tusayan Growth EIS `wasn't perfect' but was `legally defensible.' The secretary was okay with proceeding with . . . two stipulations (I won't editorialize on his right to stipulate)," Miss Frisch wrote.

In her reply, Southwest Regional Forester Eleanor Towns said she spoke with Mr. Hayes and confirmed the technical changes Mr. Babbitt had requested in the EIS relating to the transportation hub.

The 1997 e-mails were written just one month before Mr. Babbitt told the Williams News in Arizona he "never voiced an opinion to any official or the Forest Service (or the National Park Service, for that matter) as to whether the proposed Canyon Forest Village development should go forward, and I intend to continue to recuse myself from any role in the decision," he said in a letter to the editor. …