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Contracts upend life at Grand Canyon
Canyon

Contracts upend life at Grand Canyon

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Across the street from a mostly empty row of RV sites in Grand Canyon National Park’s Trailer Village, a man and his 9th grade son unpacked a small shed into the back of a pickup truck. The man’s wife is an employee of Xanterra, a concessionaire that, under various names, has operated various park amenities for more than 90 years.

After 30 years living at Trailer Village’s employee housing sites, the family is being forced to move its trailer home to another site a few miles away, and to shoulder the $4,100 it will cost to do so, said the man, who declined to give his name for fear of jeopardizing his wife’s job.

“We live paycheck to paycheck as everyone does,” the man said. “No one up here has that kind of money.”

The man, as well as dozens of other families of employees who work for three South Rim concessionaires, are facing mandatory moving notices, increased rents or both after the National Park Service re-crafted the concession contracts that it put out for bid in 2013. Among other changes, the move shifted some employee housing from the larger contract held by Xanterra to a smaller one held by Buffalo, N.Y.-based concessionaire Delaware North Companies. The revisions prompted a lawsuit from Xanterra that is now being settled out of court.

The legal wrangling and corporate dealmaking surrounding the situation have made national news. But on the ground and away from the headlines, the arrangement is also wreaking havoc on the lives of employees living in Trailer Village and elsewhere.

“We’re sitting in limbo,” said Jeff, who has lived in Trailer Village with his wife, a seamstress for Xanterra, for 16 years. The couple is being forced to move out of their trailer site by Feb. 23. He also did not want to give his full name to protect his wife.

“We’re basically being evicted, but for the Park Service and Delaware North, it’s money. That’s all they care about,” he said.

Corporate dealings

The situation faced by Trailer Village residents is the result of negotiations between Xanterra and Delaware North after concession contracts held by both companies were reworked and put out for bid by the Park Service in August 2013. As part of the changes, the agency shifted the Trailer Village employee housing from the larger contract, held by Xanterra, into the smaller one, held by Delaware North. In August 2014, Delaware North was awarded the smaller 15-year contract that now includes the expanded territory. But Xanterra cried foul on the move, arguing in an October lawsuit filing that the Park Service failed to provide enough employee housing space for the number of people required to perform the responsibilities assigned under the larger contract.

“Most of the lost housing was assigned to the smaller of the two new Park concession contracts where it is not needed. Yet, NPS failed to implement the obvious solution of reallocating the housing. The result: No companies, not even incumbent Xanterra, submitted a bid for the larger of two concession contracts,” Xanterra wrote in the lawsuit.

Xanterra’s previous contract with the Parks Service expired at the end of 2014 and was put up for bid at the same time as Delaware North’s but after receiving no bids on the contract, the Park Service granted Xanterra a one-year extension.

When the dust settled, the two companies had reached a temprorary arrangement in which Delaware North will rent five manager houses and about 50 Trailer Village sites to Xanterra for use by its employees throughout 2015. But effective Feb. 1, the company is charging Xanterra employees $250 per month to rent the trailer sites, which is a 150 percent increase over the $100 Xanterra employees have been paying. The more than 100 Xanterra employees who live in Trailer Village own their trailer homes but pay rent to locate on sites.

“To be clear, we are charging Xanterra – not its associates – for the use of the assigned sites in Trailer Village,” Dana Marciniak, Delaware North spokeswoman, wrote in an email to the Daily Sun. “We invoice Xanterra, and, in turn, Xanterra has chosen to pass the entire site charge onto its associates.”

Xanterra declined to comment for the story and though the Park Service assigns the contracts, it gives concessionaires the ability to determine rental rates depending on their costs to operate the housing facilities, said Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski, spokeswoman with Grand Canyon National Park.

Moving out

Some Xanterra employees have a choice to stick it out in Trailer Village and pay increased rents or move to another site owned by Xanterra, where they will continue paying $100 per month in rent. But one unfortunate group doesn't even have that choice.

A couple of weeks after Delaware North took over management of Trailer Village in January, the company sent letters to employees, regardless of their employer, who live in the last few rows of the employee housing area. The letter said they would need to move, either to another part of Trailer Village or somewhere else in the park, said Jeff, the husband of the Xanterra seamstress. Jeff said he received the letter in mid-January, just over a month before a Feb. 23 move out deadline.

Delaware North did not answer the Daily Sun’s questions about why it was requiring residents to move their trailers and how the vacated area was going to be used.

The whole situation has put employees on edge, partly because this deal only lasts for a year until Xanterra’s temporary contract ends, said Dione Ortiz, who works for another division of Xanterra as an employee at the Grand Hotel in Tusayan. Ortiz and her husband own two trailers in Trailer Village and have lived there for two and a half years. Even though her husband works for Delaware North, the couple will likely have to pay at least one month of higher rent because their trailers are under the name of her son and daughter-in -law, who are Xanterra employees, Ortiz said. Delaware North has only given them vague verbal indications that they will be able to move the trailers to one of the company’s employee spots, she said.

The couple said they’re appalled that such an astronomical rent increase is being foisted upon employees who are essentially forced to live there.

“It’s taxing and trying for people who have been here for a long time,” said Timothy Ormond, Ortiz’s husband.

The $250 rent charge, which doesn’t include gas or electricity, may seem cheap to Flagstaff residents, but it's a major blow to locals, Ormond said. Many aren’t making much more than minimum wage, most don’t earn tips, and the cost of everything from gas to food at the park’s general store is one and a half to two times more expensive than Williams or Flagstaff, he said.

But Xanterra and Delaware North employees aren’t the only ones affected by the housing shuffle. Another Trailer Village resident, Calvin, works for Paul Revere, a third concessionaire that runs shuttle buses in the park. He is also caught up in the housing tangle because he lives in the area of Trailer Village that has to be moved out by Feb. 23.

With just weeks to get off the site, Calvin’s living room is stacked with boxes and he’s still trying to figure out how to get wheels and axles needed to move his trailer. As far as he knows, he won’t be getting any reimbursement for moving costs that he calculated will run about $5,000. Xanterra employees make barely more than minimum wage “and I make just a bit more,” Calvin said. The costs are also coming at a time when many employees’ hours are being cut during the park’s slow season, several Trailer Village residents said.

“There’s a lot of stress involved. I don’t sleep much anymore,” said Calvin, who didn’t want to use his last name for fear of retribution. “I don’t know whose idea it was, but it was a really crappy idea. You would think that if these people wanted us to move they would at least help us.”

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com

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Environment, Health and Science Reporter

Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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