'Sewer Water' For Snow-Making Approved For Flagstaff Snowbowl
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – The Flagstaff City Council voted 5-2 Thursday not to amend the contract for the Arizona Snowbowl to allow the use of drinking water for artificial snow-making on the San Francisco Peaks.
“They're going to make snow with sewer water,” Arizona Sen. Albert Hale, D-2nd District, said Thursday afternoon.
The contract calls for 1.5 million gallons of treated wastewater per day to be used for snow-making three months of the year, from November through February, at the ski resort located on the San Francisco Peaks, a mountain sacred to 13 Arizona Indian tribes, including the Navajo and Hopi.
“It's unfortunate that city council did not amend the contract to allow for the use of drinking water,” Hale said. “The use of drinking water to make snow seemed to be the least offensive to Indian tribes. But I think there are still options that need to be explored.
“The option that remains is the possibility of buying out the Snowbowl. That would satisfy the concerns expressed by Indian nations,” he said. Representatives of the different nations would have to come together and figure out how to come up with the money for the buyout, which could run as high as $80 million.
During Thursday's meeting of the Navajo Nation Council, Delegate Raymond Maxx attempted to have Council authorize attorney Howard Shanker as the Nation's lawyer, to legally challenge the Flagstaff City Council authorization in court “using any available legal means necessary.”
The letter by Maxx was introduced by Delegate Raymond Joe. However, they were told that any authorization would have to go through the Office of the Attorney General. Maxx said he would proceed on that recommendation.
Hale, who was Navajo Nation president from 1995 to 1998 and also served as an assistant attorney general, said that in his view, “The court has run its course. There needs to be an exploration of other options. That's my feeling.”
The city council met Monday on whether to amend the existing contract between the city and the Snowbowl partners. That was the only issue, Hale said, “But what I was hearing a lot of, especially from Indian nation representatives, was we don't want any more expansion, we don't want development, we don't want snow-making. As I understand it, we're beyond those issues. The better option would have been for the Indian nations to get together and buy out the permit.”
Hale said that before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' en banc decision in 2009, he conveyed a buyout offer to the Navajo Nation leadership. “There was an offer that was made from the partners. I left it with the leadership and they didn't do anything. If they had pursued that option we wouldn't be at this point.”
Cora Maxx-Phillips, executive director of the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services who has been on special assignment with Council Delegate Thomas Walker Jr., visited 20 Arizona Indian tribes in the past week in a three-day meeting marathon to discuss options.
“The tribes have steadfastly maintained a united position to not do any kind of snow-making,” she said. “This fight has been going on since the 1970s, so this is like a 30 year ordeal for me, being a part of the effort and the struggle to preserve the Peaks in its pristine condition.
“Back in the 1970s when we lost the (Snowbowl) battle, we walked away quietly. My message to the tribes has been that we can no longer walk away quietly because there are so many issues at stake.”
Maxx-Phillips said she is pushing for a centralized focus group from the tribes that will take a serious look at the issues. “We need to begin a very concerted effort in establishing a law that will protect sacred land. There is no such law at this point.”
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was tried twice back in the 1970s and again recently by Shanker. “We know that it still is not strong enough to represent our interests, so it needs to be amended,” she said.
Snowbowl General Partner Erick Borowsky Tuesday that he was asking the city council to use recovered-reclaimed drinking water “because I understand it's an issue with the tribes from a religious standpoint. I prefer to respect that and come up with the best possible solution. I really feel bad, and it's very unfortunate, that the elected officials of these tribes have basically messed up a federal compromise that I think was the best possible solution.”
Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. said in a statement Thursday that from time immemorial, Dook’o’osliid, the mountain known to the foreigners as the San Francisco Peaks, has been sacred to Diné – the Navajo People – and to all the indigenous people of northern Arizona.
“To Diné, the sacred mountain of the West represents life itself. Our sacred deity, Changing Woman, placed this mountain here for us and bound it to the Earth with a sunbeam when the world was made for the five-fingered, intelligent, Earth-dwellers called homo sapiens.”
Ever since that time, and centuries before the multitude of foreigners first saw it, Diné journeyed to this sacred mountain to collect herbs and to make their offerings and prayers. The reverence for which Diné hold Dook’o’osliid has never ceased, never waned, Shirley said. “Dook’o’osliid is one of our strengths. It is our essence. It is us.”
Walker said recently that asking the Navajo Nation whether they prefer potable or effluent water “is essentially asking us if we are willing to negotiate our identity as Navajos. Dook’o’osliid is inextricably tied to our identity, much like one’s family
members are part of one’s identity. It is like asking us to turn our back on a family member. As such, this is a matter that we cannot negotiate.”
Judge Mary H. Murguia at U.S. District Court in Phoenix refused to rule in July on Shanker's request for an injunction to keep the Snowbowl from starting construction. Instead, she asked the parties to come to an agreement. With Thursday's action by the city council, Shanker could ask for a ruling on the injunction.
The case known as Save the Peaks Coalition, et al. v. U.S. Forest Service focuses on potential public health risks of human ingestion of snow made from reclaimed wastewater. The suit asserts that the Final Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the Forest Service ignores the possibility of human ingestion of snow made from treated sewage effluent.
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