The pipe has been laid to carry treated sewage from Flagstaff to the sacred San Francisco Peaks – but the Hopi Tribe has issued another challenge to keep the first flake from hitting the slopes.
The tribe released a statement on November 16 announcing a new civil action asking the U.S. Forest Service to withdraw its permission for snowmaking until it completes ongoing consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The consultations were re-opened after the Hopi Tribe commissioned a study showing threats to an endangered plant hadn’t been adequately considered.
The Hopi action is just the latest tribal outcry about Arizona Snowbowl in a series of legal challenges that date back to the 1970s. Thirteen tribes consider the San Francisco Peaks sacred, and their displeasure at its use for recreation is well known. But opposition reached a fever pitch in the early 2000s, when the resort issued its plan to pipe water to its slopes. Snowbowl hopes to steady a business that is at the mercy of naturally arid conditions to start with, and has been challenged in recent years by drought.
Snowbowl initially asked to make artificial snow in 2001, and the Forest Service approved the request in 2004. Numerous court challenges by tribal and environmental activists proved unsuccessful, with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejecting a final appeal in February of this year. Construction has been visible in spots from Flagstaff to Snowbowl for months, as the pipes have been buried to begin making snow this season.
But the Hopi Tribe has maintained that the Forest Service overlooked a key issue:
Potential impacts of the reclaimed wastewater on the endangered San Francisco Peaks groundsel, a federally protected alpine plant which exists only on the San Francisco Peaks. The tribe hired Phoenix-based SWCA Environmental Consultants, who found earlier this year that snowmaking with wastewater is likely to have a direct impact on the groundsel’s critical habitat by altering the local nitrogen balance. Based on those findings, the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service re-opened consultations about the plan earlier this year.
“We are hopeful that the Obama Administration will correct this bad decision to allow snowmaking with reclaimed wastewater based on the new information submitted by the Hopi Tribe and all the other factors weighing against it,” Hopi General Counsel Robert J. Lyttle said in the Hopi press release.
Commenting by phone on Friday, Hopi Tribal Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa added that the Hopi Tribe “has no choice but to file for an injunction while they complete a study about the dangers to the endangered plant. We’re following the directions of our elders and spiritual leaders,” he said. “We still do not agree with using any reclaimed water.”
When asked to comment the Forest Service said they are unable to due to pending litigation.