Suffering a legal setback and failing to get the Obama administration to agree to intervene in the spraying of reclaimed wastewater on the sacred San Francisco Peaks, Indians are stepping up their grassroots and legal protests.
An indigenous caravan plans to travel this weekend from Arizona to San Francisco, California to have their voices heard in a legal battle playing out before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A press conference is scheduled for January 9 to follow a court hearing. An intertribal sunrise ceremony and a march to the courthouse are also planned.
The group is called the Save the Peaks Coalition. They are suing to stop a company from spraying reclaimed wastewater on the San Francisco Peaks as part of a plan to develop the Snowbowl Ski Resort near Flagstaff, Arizona.
The coalition is made up of Indian plaintiffs and environmentalists who are arguing in court that under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, the U.S. Forest Service failed to adequately consider the impacts associated with ingestion of snow made from reclaimed sewer water in its federally mandated environmental review process.
In 2005, the Snowbowl Ski Resort and Coconino Forest Service expansion plan was approved for reclaimed sewage water from Flagstaff’s Rio de Flag Sewage Plant for the use of snowmaking at the resort. Owners of Arizona Snowbowl Ski Resort last year laid seven miles of wastewater pipeline and clear-cut over 50 acres of rare alpine forest, while the issue was still being contested.
Indians have been unsuccessful in their arguments to the Obama administration for intervention thus far.
According to organizers, the San Francisco Peaks, a sacred site to thirteen tribes, located near Flagstaff Arizona, faces imminent danger of being used as a toxic recreation area exposing citizens to hazardous contaminants.
“It is deplorable that the United States Forest Service would allow known endocrine disruptors to come into contact with our children,” said Berta Benally, a grandmother traveling to California to witness the hearing. “At one point DDT, BPA and asbestos were all considered safe. Years later, after many people suffered, we now sadly know that they created a health hazard.”
In December, the Hopi Tribe lost a lawsuit that attempted to prevent the city of Flagstaff from selling treated sewage water to Snowbowl. Coconino County Superior Court Judge Joe Lodge ruled in favor of the city on December 23. He said that the substantial components of the case had already been decided in federal court, and that the tribe was legally required to raise its objections earlier.
“The plaintiff was clearly on notice in March 2002 that the city of Flagstaff intended to contract with Snowbowl to purchase reclaimed wastewater to be used for snowmaking at the Snowbowl ski area,” Lodge wrote in his ruling.
The ruling did not address new legal issues raised by the tribe, including whether reclaimed wastewater can legally be used to make snow if the melted snow then flows into other water basins outside of Snowbowl, which is prohibited by state regulations, according to the Associated Press.
“We’re going to seriously take a look at what we have,” Hopi Chairman Le Roy Shingoitewa said in a statement when asked if the tribe would consider an appeal.
According to the Associated Press, the owner of the ski resort has recently approached the Navajo Nation and one other tribe over the possibility of using groundwater from deep wells in the Coconino or Redwall aquifers rather than reclaimed wastewater.