PHOENIX -- The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and its affluent neighbors in Scottsdale are getting along much better these days, thanks to agreement on a price for leasing a busy road that serves as a border between the reservation and the resort city.
For months, they had haggled. Scottsdale had been paying the tribe $7,606 a year to use seven miles of the northbound lane of Pima Road, but the Indians wanted a lot more.
So tribal officials, frustrated over what they saw as the city's unwillingness to compromise, closed their half of the road last December.
Traffic in and around Scottsdale became even more congested than usual, especially with the arrival of winter visitors, but half of the road remained closed.
In April, Scottsdale officials turned over their problem to the Arizona Department of Transportation, figuring that the state's pockets were deeper. After many more negotiating sessions, the state earlier this month agreed to pay 300 individual landowners a total of $435,000 a year for two years for the privilege of using the eastern half of Pima Road.
Thus, with hard-nosed bargaining, the Indians turned a $7,606-a-year settlement of a trespass suit into a $435,000 lease. The suit, resolved in 1982, had been filed by Indian landowners after Scottsdale repaved both sides of the road without the tribe's permission.
Based on an appraisal of the roadway land, the tribe produced the $435,000 figure. Scottsdale officials said they figured it would be better to bow out gracefully with the city treasury intact.
Gov. Evan Mecham (R) tried briefly to arrange a settlement and then turned the matter over to his transportation department.
After debris was cleared from the unused half of the road, it was opened to traffic Aug. 13, ending the eight-month standoff. The agreement delighted thousands of students at Scottsdale Community College, which is on the reservation and is served by Pima Road.
Tribal president Gerald Anton said at the time that it was "unfortunate that the lengthy negotiations caused an inconvenience to the valley motorists." His prepared statement continued:
"However, the successful conclusion of this agreement demonstrates the continual spirit of cooperation between the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the Arizona Department of Transportation."
Tribe spokesman Ivan Makil said he considers the outcome a victory for the Indians. "Hopefully, we've gained some respect to be dealt with as equals," he said.
About a week after the Pima Road dispute was settled, the Indians agreed in principle to let the state build a planned freeway adjacent to the road but on the reservation.
State Transportation Director Charles Miller estimates that a freeway solely on the reservation would cost $275 million, compared with $335 million for a 50-50 alignment on the reservation and in Scottsdale, and $381 million for one entirely in Scottsdale.
The reservation route would save the state at least $60 million in right-of-way acquisition and other costs, he said.
The Indians also would be able to develop both sides of the freeway with restaurants, gas stations, office buildings and fruit stands. "That is a big consideration in our negotiations with the state," Makil said.
Once the freeway is built, possibly by 1991, the lease, subject to renegotiation in two years, could become a purchase agreement, and Pima Road would fade as a major north-south route through Scottsdale.