By Klee Benally – Indigenousaction.org
Flagstaff, AZ — Owners of Arizona Snowbowl ski area have begun moving pipeline and construction equipment to the base of the holy San Francisco Peaks, located in Northern Arizona. The Peaks are central to the ways of life of more than 13 Indigenous Nations.
Snowbowl owner Eric Borowski plans on starting the development today.
Although currently challenged by a legal appeal in the 9th Circuit Court, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has permitted the ski area to begin development.
The Coconino National Forest, headed by the USDA, manages the Peaks as public lands. Snowbowl has operated under a special use permit since the 1980’s, which was initially challenged by Indigenous Nations and environmentalists all the way up to the Supreme Court.
According to the Forest Service, “Construction is anticipated to begin this month along a segment of Snowbowl Road. . . Snowbowl Road will remain open; however, delays and temporary closures will occur throughout the duration of construction, approximately five months.”
The Forest Service also stated that Snowbowl Road will be closed each day from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
For more than a dozen years Indigenous Nations, environmental activists, and concerned community members have worked together to protect the holy site and surrounding area from further ecological destruction, public health threats, and spiritual desecration.
Snowbowl’s development plans include clear-cutting 74 acres of rare alpine habitat that is home to threatened species, making new runs and lifts, adding more parking lots and building a 14.8 mile buried pipeline to transport up to 180 million gallons (per season) of wastewater to make artificial snow on 205 acres.
The wastewater, which would be purchased from the City of Flagstaff, has been proven by biologists to contain harmful contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and hormones. In their Environmental Impact Statement the Forest Service did not consider the impact of ingesting waste water in the form of artificial snow or from the storage pond by humans and animals.
This point is the basis of the Save the Peaks Coalition’s current lawsuit which is currently appealing a District Court decision in favor of Snowbowl’s proposed actions.
On April 1, 2011 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied an emergency motion by the Save the Peaks Coalition to stop Snowbowl ski area and the U.S. Department of Agriculture from cutting down approximately 30,000 trees.
In 2002, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, with no real public process, quietly decided to allow wastewater to be used for snowmaking purposes. Later that same year the Flagstaff Mayor and City Council signed a contract to allow the sale of sewage effluent for snowmaking on the holy mountain. The contract has since been renewed administratively, behind closed doors without any public input.
Snowbowl would be the only ski area in the world to use 100% wastewater for snowmaking purposes.
In 2010 Flagstaff City Manager Kevin Burke revealed a plan, secretly negotiated with the USDA, for use of Flagstaff’s drinking water instead of the sewage effluent. Snowbowl was offered 11 million tax payer’s dollars to subsidize the increased costs of using potable water. Stating that the US government believed drinking water snowmaking to be “less offensive” to Indigenous Nations, the plan was pushed without the consent of or any consultation with Indigenous Nations.
Facing overwhelming community and Tribal opposition, City of Flagstaff officials ultimately rejected the plan.
Following the failed attempt to use drinking water the USDA, while still aggressively battling the Save the Peaks Coalition in court, began listening sessions to hear Indigenous Peoples concerns on the protection of sacred places. Ironically, the sessions were initiated in part due to the Peaks controversy.
The USDA is expected to issue a report for policy changes sometime this year.
In response to threat of development, more than 150 people rallied outside of Flagstaff City Hall and held a march for protection of the holy San Francisco Peaks on April 16th.