An Arizona Supreme Court ruling enables the Hopi Tribe to continue its legal challenge to the Snowbowl ski resort’s spraying of artificial snow made from treated wastewater onto the sacred San Francisco Peaks.
The court ruled on Tuesday January 7 that the City of Flagstaff’s sale of the highly treated sewage to the ski resort owners could be challenged “on assertions that the water sale works against the public’s interests,” the Arizona Daily Sun reported, calling it a “procedural victory.”
In the decision, the Supreme Court refused to review an April 2013 ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals that had overturned a 2011 trial court’s dismissal of the Hopi’s lawsuit, the Sun said. The City of Flagstaff had asked the state Supreme Court to review that appeals court ruling.
The February 2011 lawsuit that the Hopi had filed in Cococino County Superior Court in Flagstaff alleged that the city’s contract to sell the water impairs the public’s ability to enjoy an unsullied wilderness in the peaks.
The legal approach differed from previous lawsuits, which looked at the effect of snowmaking on Native religious freedoms and on the environment. The Tuesday ruling is based on whether the sale of the water should have been given the go-ahead back in 2002, the Sun said. This ruling overturns for good the trial judge’s 2011 dismissal of the case, the Associated Press said.
“The core issues raised by the tribe’s public nuisance claim–environmental harms expected and benefits associated with the city’s sale of reclaimed wastewater for use in snowmaking at Snowbowl … were not actually litigated or decided in the Navajo Nation litigation,” the Court of Appeals opinion stated in its 2011 decision.
The San Francisco Peaks is sacred to at least 13 tribes, several of which have challenged the snowmaking project in court on various fronts. After years of litigation, the Snowbowl began making the snow with the highly treated wastewater in late 2012.