Hopi continues to fight Snowbowl

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, November 21, 2012

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C iting its possible effects on a threatened plant, the Hopi Tribe is seeking an injunction to stop snowmaking with treated sewage effluent at the Arizona Snowbowl.

In a complaint filed Nov. 14 in federal court in the District of Columbia, the tribe asks the court to stop all proposed snowmaking and snowmaking activities at the Snowbowl, a ski area located on the San Francisco Peaks, until full consideration is given to the effects of snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks groundsel.

The San Francisco Peaks groundsel is a small perennial plant that grows low to the ground and only on the alpine tundra of the mountain at elevations above 10,900 feet.

It was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in November 1983. The listing also included designating 700 acres of critical habitat on and near the summits of Humphreys and Agassiz peaks.

The ski area is located on the slopes of Agassiz Peak and operates under a special use permit issued by the U.S. Forest Service.

In 2005, the Forest Service approved the ski area's request to complete upgrades and install new lifts, trails and facilities, including construction of a pipeline to pump sewage effluent from Flagstaff for snowmaking.

The manmade snow would be blown onto ski trails through snow guns and snow fans.

The Hopi Tribe contends that the Forest Service's biological assessment and evaluation and its final environmental impact statement did not include the effects of manmade snow on the San Francisco Peaks groundsel and its habitat.

It also did not consider the potential hazard from over-spray and the drifting of artificial snow into the plant's natural environment.

The lawsuit also claims that the final EIS did not examine areas where manmade snow would be deposited and only included the special use permit area, the Snowbowl Road and the area proposed for the pipeline between Flagstaff and the Snowbowl.

J.R. Murray, Snowbowl general manager, said he is disappointed the Hopi Tribe decided to sue the federal government again over recreational purposes at the Snowbowl.

Despite this latest development, the Snowbowl remains focused on the upcoming ski season and recreation for the general public, he added.

"We intend to be making snow before Christmas and be open," he said.

Earlier this year, the Hopi Tribe hired SWCA Environmental Consultants to evaluate the snowmaking project and found that it will cause an increase in nitrogen, phosphorus and moisture available to areas outside the ski area.

The Hopi Tribe announced in July that the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reopened consultation to evaluate the potential impacts of using wastewater for snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks groundsel.

The Hopi action is the latest in a series of lawsuits filed by environmental and tribal activists against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing the snowmaking, arguing that, in addition to environmental concerns, it violated the religious freedom of the 13 tribes who consider the San Francisco Peaks sacred.

So far, all the litigation has been unsuccessful in stopping the project.

Earlier this year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Forest Service in a suit that brought up possible health hazards to skiers who inadvertently eat the manufactured snow.

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