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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Northern Arizona's new head football coach Chris Ball made is introduced Wednesday afternoon during a press conference at the 1899 Bar and Grill Ballroom.

Klaus Obermeyer, Courtesy 

Alpha (East) Tunnel looking toward the Sun | Moon Chamber. 

Roden Crater tentatively set to open in 2024 thanks to ASU and Kanye West

A mysterious art installation in northern Arizona’s Painted Desert decades in the making may soon have portions opened to the public.

Artist James Turrell purchased Roden Crater, an extinct cinder cone volcano, in the 1970s and began carving out the interior to build a series of chambers and halls to house a conceptual light and space exhibit. It’s rightfully garnered attention from donors over the years, but a new partnership with Arizona State University and a recent $10 million donation from Kanye West has renewed the construction process with vigor.

Klaus Obermeyer, Courtesy 

James Turrell at Roden Crater. 

The musician and entrepreneur toured Roden Crater in December, later tweeting that it was “life changing.”

“We are in support of Roden Crater so that his work can be experienced and enjoyed for eternity,” West said in a statement.

This is neither the first time Roden Crater has drawn the attention of celebrities nor West’s first foray into the world of contemporary art. He’s met with Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami, praised Chicago artist Kerry James Marshall on Twitter and commissioned London-based artist Shadi Al-Atallah to create art for his “XTCY” single cover last year.

“Kanye is a great human being with a big heart and love of art,” Turrell said. “I am just thrilled to have his support and partnership at this critical juncture of the project.”

Klaus Obermeyer, Courtesy 

The East Portal at Roden Crater. 

ASU recently entered into a partnership with Turrell and the Skystone Foundation, the nonprofit responsible for the fundraising, administration, realization and operation of Roden Crater, to develop a long-term plan for the project’s completion. It will also develop an academic component for students to learn more about Turrell’s artistic vision through a pilot program involving ASU’s Herberger Institute, School of Sustainability, School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Social Transformation.

Michael Govan, board member of the Turrell Art Foundation and president of the Skystone Foundation, released a statement saying they hoped to complete the installation in five years thanks to a $1.8 million planning grant as well as West’s support and the partnership with ASU. Recent donor contributions of nearly $40 million outside of West’s generosity have helped nudge the project along, but the goal is to raise another $200 million in the next two years.

About 80 students and faculty will visit Roden Crater this spring as part of the pilot program and five interdisciplinary labs will be offered on subjects such as light and imagination, volcanoes and art, and indigenous culture/stories and sky science.

Kelly Fielder, a graduate student in ASU’s youth theater program, said she hadn’t heard of Roden Crater before learning about it in her volcanic arts and sciences class, but was grateful for the opportunity to visit last fall.

Klaus Obermeyer, Courtesy 

The East Portal at Roden Crater. 

“I really didn’t know what to expect exactly because before there weren’t a whole lot of images online or anything like that, so I thought that part of what was so exciting about going was the mystery,” she said. “Even if someone had described it to me, I wouldn’t have had a full understanding of what I would be going through.”

The website describes the site as “a gateway to the contemplation of light, time and landscape… constructed to last for centuries to come, Roden Crater links the physical and the ephemeral, the objective with the subjective, in a transformative sensory experience.”

Holes drilled in the top of the crater turn the conceptual art space into a naked eye observatory built on Turrell’s grand ideas that have rarely been limited to the earth, like with his “Skyspaces” series which are site-specific installations he has been creating since 1986.

A pilot for nearly 60 years, he knew exactly what he was looking for when he flew his plane over the Painted Desert in the ‘70s. Despite donations slowing down over time and the occasional comment from outsiders wondering whether Roden Crater would ever be finished, this seems like the beginning of the end to Turrell.

“The partnership with ASU has lit a fire under me. It’s accelerated my vision that we will get Roden Crater completed, and it will have sustainability well into the future when I’m gone,” he said. “This involvement with ASU and its wide-ranging work as a New American University — suddenly, I’m having to be young again, which is terrific.”

The 75-year-old artist has gained worldwide recognition for his one-of-a-kind artwork in the past, but this project is the magnum opus of his career. He has described his art as being made from light as the material and perception as the medium; the work is more about sensing light than viewing it.

“There’s the light outside that he makes physical, but the end result is an awareness somehow of our light inside,” Govan said.

Visitors must go on a sort of pilgrimage to arrive at the volcano field, becoming both physically and mentally removed from the bustling outside world as they travel down a long dirt road. The remote location’s dark skies are also an important aspect to allow enough celestial bodies to be projected on the inside walls. Each component has been precisely measured and positioned so the lunar and solar orbits will remain in view for at least 4,000 years.

Fielder said the installation wouldn’t have had as much of an impact if it had simply been an exhibit within a museum in a big city.

“It’s hard to imagine the artwork anywhere but Roden Crater,” she said.

The students who are a part of ASU’s pilot program are in the minority of those who have been granted access to Roden Crater.

“It definitely feels very special and very elite right now to be part of that small group,” Fielder said. “I’m excited for the day when it doesn’t feel so special and elite because I think it’s a piece of art that everyone deserves to see.”

Klaus Obermeyer, Courtesy 

James Turrell at Roden Crater. 

Housing project in town outside Grand Canyon comes to a halt

FLAGSTAFF — Work on an off-grid housing development in a small town outside the Grand Canyon has stopped because the town doesn't have approval to build in a flood plain.

Millions of people pass through Tusayan each year on their way to the canyon's South Rim entrance, unaware of decades of infighting in the community over infrastructure, housing and other development. The companies that run Tusayan's hotels and restaurants also own almost all of its homes.

Nearly nine years after it incorporated, Tusayan last year broke ground on what is supposed to be the first opportunity for residents to buy homes. An Italian real-estate group, Stilo Development Group USA, gave the town the land for the Ten X Ranch development in exchange for rezoning and annexing its properties.

Tusayan Mayor Craig Sanderson says crews graded the area, built up the dirt where the homes would sit and rerouted a wash in line with what it believed were the county's guidelines for surface water flow. The town agreed to halt the work on the same day the Coconino County Flood Control District sued Tusayan, alleging it violated flood plain regulations and state law.

The development's first 20 homes originally were expected to be ready for residents to move in mid-year.

"I can't tell you when it's going to happen," Sanderson said.

The county flood district said it became aware in April of the town's development plans in parts of a normally dry wash that extend beyond the boundaries of the community of about 550 people. The district wrote to the town manager saying construction could not start without a flood plain use permit. In his emailed response, town manager Eric Duthie asked, "What project are you referring to?"

In October, Duthie told a county hydrologist the town was its own flood plain administrator.

However, an ordinance Tusayan passed in August establishing itself as flood plain administrator never took effect. A resident successfully petitioned to refer the matter to the ballot, and an election tentatively is planned in May. In the meantime, the county remains in charge of flood plain regulations.

According to the lawsuit, the town never informed the county about the referendum petition.

Lucinda Andreani, county flood district director, said the town must restore an earthen pond it removed at Ten X and submit hydrological studies to ensure the development won't make flooding worse downstream where most of Tusayan lies. Existing flood maps for the entire watershed are decades old, she said.

Previous studies vary widely in the amount of water that could flow over the property without causing significant flooding.

Clarinda Vail, whose family has a long history in Tusayan, initiated the referendum petition. She said the town is misrepresenting when it started work at Ten X, which also includes a planned solar electric grid.

"The way the town is handling things has us all really concerned, where we can't really trust they would handle flood control properly," she said.

Sanderson says the town wasn't flouting the law, and neither he nor the Town Council were aware of the county's communication with Duthie.

The town is paying $91,000 a week for the stalled construction, a figure that will change to $67,000 a month starting Feb. 1, Duthie said.

The town is limited to 20 houses at Ten X until it can get approval for an easement on a U.S. Forest Service road on behalf of Stilo for planned commercial development at another property Stilo owns in Tusayan, Sanderson said. The Forest Service returned the town's application in 2016, saying it was worried about its impacts on Grand Canyon National Park and nearby tribal lands. The town hasn't resubmitted the plan.

Ross D. Franklin, AP Photo 

Joined by other police officials and city leaders, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams announces the arrest of Nathan Sutherland, a licensed practical nurse, on one count of sexual assault and one count of vulnerable adult abuse on an incapacitated woman who gave birth last month at a long-term health care facility Wednesday in Phoenix.

Council criticizes 2018 downtown parking study

Downtown Flagstaff may be short only about 160 parking spaces -- or at least, that was the conclusion of a city commissioned study done in August of last year.

In addition, last year’s study, which also covered the more commercial areas of the Southside north of Butler Avenue, concluded that those sections of the Southside had nearly 600 surplus spaces even during peak hours.

But this all came as a surprise to much of Flagstaff City Council and members of the downtown business community, who expressed skepticism as to the conclusion, especially as a 2009 study showed downtown was short about 600 spaces.

The recent study was conducted to help the city determine the future of the former home of the municipal courthouse after the new courthouse is constructed. The study could also influence how to utilize money set aside from the ParkFlag program that is devoted to finding parking solutions.

Terry Madeksza, the executive director of the Downtown Business Alliance, was among those that expressed frustration and concern over the study’s conclusion.

Madeksza said she and other stakeholders were concerned that the results may lead the council to conclude that a lack of parking spaces downtown is no longer an issue.

Madeksza added that she doesn’t believe the parking issues downtown are all that different now compared to 10 years ago.

“ParkFlag is doing a great job,” Madeksza said. “We are incredibly strong advocates for the work of ParkFlag and the staff, but is there still a need for additional parking supply, absolutely.”

Madeksza also expressed frustration that two city studies would come to such different conclusions, with one study putting the shortfall at 600 spaces and suggesting the construction of a parking garage downtown while another put the shortfall at only 160 spots. All the while, Madeksza said, downtown business owners are taxing themselves extra, specifically for finding parking solutions.

And much of the council seemed to agree with Madeksza’s assessment.

“What has happened from the time when we needed 600 spaces? Our growth has been more; the college community has grown,” Councilmember Jamie Whelan said.

The difference in conclusions seems to have occurred, at least in part, due to a change in methodology between the 2009 and 2018 studies.

For example, one difference was that the 2009 study treated each block as an island with its own parking needs. The 2018 study, on the other hand, measures parking in a more fluid manor, factoring in the way people might park a block or two away from their destination before walking to where they need to go.

But Council did not see this as an improvement, with many comparing the difference in methodology in the studies to comparing apple with oranges.

According to city staff, the study was meant to capture the parking situation during tourist season, but Whelan criticized the study for not including the NAU community, with its Aug. 2 date meaning most students were likely out of town.

“I understand taking the count during the peak tourist visitation, but there are no students during that time, or a limited number of students,” Whelan said. "And this is especially applicable for the Southside.”

Vice-Mayor Adam Shimoni agreed, adding he was concerned that the study did not capture a time after the opening of the Southside student housing development known as the Hub.

Mayor Coral Evans also concurred and said she did not believe the study captured the true effect of the ParkFlag system, which, while improving parking in the area of downtown, may have pushed those looking for free parking into surrounding neighborhoods.

Poll: Disasters influence thinking on climate change

WASHINGTON — When it comes to their views on climate change, Americans are looking at natural disasters and their local weather, according to a new poll.

Lately, that means record deadly wildfires in California, rainfall by the foot in Houston when Hurricane Harvey hit and the dome of smog over Salt Lake City that engineer Caleb Gregg steps into when he walks out his door in winter.

"I look at it every day," Gregg said from Salt Lake City, where winter days with some of the country's worst air starting a few years ago dinged the city's reputation as a pristine sports city and spurred state leaders to ramp up clean-air initiatives. "You look out and see pollution just sitting over the valley."

"I've never really doubted climate change — in the last five-ish years it's become even more evident, just by seeing the weather," the 25-year-old said. "We know we're polluting, and we know pollution is having an effect on the environment."

The poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago finds 74 percent of Americans say extreme weather in the past five years — hurricanes, droughts, floods and heat waves — has influenced their opinions about climate change. That includes half of Americans who say these recent events have influenced their thinking a great deal or a lot.

About as many, 71 percent, said the weather they experience daily in their own areas has influenced their thinking about climate change science.

The survey was conducted in November, a few days before the federal government released a major report revving up scientific warnings about the impact of climate change, including the growing toll of extreme storms and droughts.

The share of Americans who said they think the climate is changing has held roughly steady over the last year — about seven in 10 Americans think climate change is happening. Among those, 60 percent say climate change is caused mostly or entirely by humans, and another 28 percent think it's about an equal mix of human activities and natural changes.

Overall, 9 percent of Americans said climate change is not happening, and another 19 percent said they were not sure.

The poll finds Americans' personal observations of real-time natural disasters and the weather around them have more impact than news stories or statements by religious or political leaders.

"It speaks to what we know of what people trust. They trust themselves and their own experiences," said Heidi Roop, a climate scientist at the University of Washington's Climate Impact Group who focuses on the science of climate change communication.

For a long time, the idea that the acrid black billows from car and truck tailpipes and power plant smokestacks were altering the earth's atmosphere still seemed abstract, with any impacts decades away.

"With the extreme events that we've been seeing, we're increasingly able to attribute, or pull out, how human-caused climate change is making those more severe," Roop said.

When wildfires get bigger and more frequent, floods bigger and smog more entrenched, it begins to hit "the things that we all hold dear, and that's when people get affected and begin to connect the dots," Roop said.

But a minority of Americans still connect to different dots: While the poll finds most of those who believe in climate change say it's caused by human activity or an equal mix of human activity and natural causes, roughly one in 10 attribute climate change to natural changes in the environment.

In West Haven, Connecticut, 69-year-old Alan Perkins says he can see the climate is in fact changing — the Atlantic beaches a few blocks from his house are about a third smaller than when he used to play on the sand as a kid, Perkins said by phone. Scientists say climate change will mean warming oceans expand and waves get rougher, eating away at shorelines.

"I see erosion along our shorelines. Our beaches are getting smaller. I see that," Perkins said.

"I'm just not sure exactly how much we can do about that. I think nature takes care of a lot of it. Like when it rains it cleans the air. I think nature kind of takes care of itself," Perkins said. "A lot of it is just in God's hands, and he's in control."