by CYNDY COLE and JOE FERGUSON, Sun
Arizona Daily Sun
03 September 2010
is unlikely to be making artificial snow on the San Francisco
Peaks in the winter of 2011-12 after all.
In fact, it is
now unclear when or whether the ski area might start
construction, much less produce the snow. That decision is now
again in the hands of a federal judge after the Flagstaff City
Council on Thursday decided 5-2 against allowing the ski area to
use drinking water instead of reclaimed wastewater.
possibility the vote might be reconsidered in favor of a
five-year option for drinking water until a lawsuit over the
safety of reclaimed wastewater is decided. A reconsideration
motion likely would not come until next week at the earliest.
The City Council
had the option of nullifying the lawsuit by selling drinking
will next rule on whether reclaimed water is safe for such use,
and an injunction could delay construction perhaps by one to
four years by rough estimates if there is a likely appeal to the
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
council's decision to sell reclaimed water was met by applause
in an audience that was largely opposed to making snow on the
the audience knew the decision to sell reclaimed water allows
litigation to continue.
SAME VOTE, DIFFERENT REASONS
Art Babbott, Scott Overton, Al White, Celia Barotz and Coral
Evans opposed selling drinking water, but each for a different
Their vote means
the existing contract to sell Snowbowl 1.5 million gallons a day
of reclaimed wastewater is unaltered.
and Mayor Sara Presler supported the sale of drinking water to
Snowbowl, with Presler saying it's the same amount of water,
anyhow, and all joins together underground.
the switch to drinking water was necessary to end the lawsuit
and allow Snowbowl to begin construction as soon as possible,
for jobs and to aid the local economy.
issue only hurts Flagstaff," she said.
Art Babbott said tribal concerns didn't influence his decision
not to sell drinking water, any more than he would attempt to
tell the Navajo Nation whether to build a golf course someday at
its proposed casino near Twin Arrows.
He also said he
didn't support some who want to close down the ski area, and
that he skis there. The overall question for him, he said, was
Flagstaff's long-term water future, expected water shortages,
and a feeling that the water sale the council initially made in
2002 might be illegal.
"I have some
real challenges knowing that we're taking water out of our
C-Aquifer basin and putting some of it in another basin ... my
understanding is that is not allowed in the state of Arizona per
statute," Babbott said.
MIXED MESSAGES FROM HOPI
The Hopi Tribe's
chairman has made conflicting statements this week about whether
the tribe would allow the city of Flagstaff to tap water wells
at Red Gap Ranch by running pipelines across Hopi land if a
water sale to Snowbowl was reaffirmed.
On one hand, he
said the tribe's pipeline considerations were not tied to the
On the other, he
said the tribe might have a difficult time considering
Flagstaff's water needs in the future if the City Council felt
it had enough spare water to send it to Snowbowl.
reclaimed water makes the Hopi Tribe unwilling to allow the city
to run a pipeline to Red Gap, "so be it," Babbott said.
questioned whether golf courses and other water users would be
next in line for drinking water. "We have an ordinance that
prohibits any drinking water for a number of uses in our
community, and I have a great fear that this will open the door
for a number of unwise water uses by our users," Babbott said.
CLEANER OPTION FOR MOUNTAINS
supported selling drinking water for snowmaking, saying it was
only a choice of which water was better, and that tribes opposed
"I find the
arguments coming in faulty to say that one is our drinking water
supply and one is not," she said. She found the drinking water
to be a cleaner option for the mountains.
"The local issue
for me is that both of them are our future water supply, and at
the end of the day for me ... the current water supply of
(drinking) water is a better choice for me moving forward, and I
will support that choice. I do it at the risk of those who argue
that we're giving away our current water supply," Presler said.
Scott Overton supported sending reclaimed water to Snowbowl,
saying the city's role here was as a water vendor, and that
tribal leaders have offered mixed messages about whether they do
or don't support drinking water instead.
water is what I'd like to see them use, as we send to every golf
course, as we send to every softball field, as we send to anyone
else who wants it," Overton said.
drinking water instead, the City Council has simply angered new
people without getting public approval from the tribes, Overton
Vice Mayor Celia
Barotz said she opposed selling drinking water to Snowbowl as
she cited reports about global warming in the Southwest. She
also opposed using taxpayer money to pay for drinking water for
concerned about the claim that this is not going to affect the
city of Flagstaff taxpayers. We are all federal taxpayers, so we
are all going to be paying for that pipe," Barotz said.
refer to a pledge by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cover
the estimated $11.4 million in higher costs if drinking water
had been approved for making snow.
The city charges
more for that water because it is pumped up from underground and
from Lake Mary before treatment.
Alan Stephens, a
representative from the USDA, said the proposal to use drinking
water originated from city officials, and not the USDA.
DEFINITELY NOT A WIN-WIN
Coral Evans would not have supported the city's contract to sell
reclaimed wastewater to Arizona Snowbowl in 2002, but now she
sees it as the better option of the two water options she has,
"No matter what
happens here today, this is definitely not going to be a win-win
situation," Evans said, due to the divisiveness of the issue.
the city's likely decision to raise water rates, pressure to
help struggling businesses, and findings from several water
experts about there not being enough water for the future in
"I truly feel
that the best decision for the city of Flagstaff is to maintain
the current contract," Evans said.
Karla Brewster supported selling drinking water for snowmaking
instead of reclaimed water, to get construction started and
nullify an existing lawsuit.
"What are we
telling our community here, businesswise? We don't want you to
increase? We're not going to increase business here?" Brewster
Snowbowl's water contract from the fact that the city is looking
for new future water supplies. "Whether we give Snowbowl one
drop of water, or if we decided not to give them one drop, we're
still looking at a 100-year supply pipeline somewhere," Brewster
HYBRID PROPOSAL FAILS
White said it is neither the city's job to boost a particular
business nor to shut one down, and he opposes any move to cancel
the city's overall contract with Snowbowl, which failed on
"I believe that
drinking water doesn't fit the bill for this use," White said.
He offered a
hybrid proposal to sell drinking water to Snowbowl for no more
than five years, with the ski area using reclaimed water for the
remaining 15 years of the contract.
that his motion was designed to allow construction of the
pipeline immediately and temporarily use drinking water for
snowmaking while the lawsuit over use of the reclaimed water can
But despite four
members of the council supporting White's motion, it failed to
pass. White wanted to send his proposal to be vetted by several
different citizen-run city commissions, with final council
adoption in November. But Presler wanted to see his motion
With his motion
defeated, White refused to vote for Presler's motion that sought
to pass the hybrid proposal immediately.
He said he
didn't want to rush into the new proposal, fearful of unintended
"Just because it
was my idea doesn't make it a genius one," White said.
Before a vote on
White's motion was taken, Snowbowl owner Eric Borowsky endorsed
White's plan, despite the uncertainty surrounding the use of
"If the courts
said, 'You can't use reclaimed water,' and the city says 'You're
only going to get drinking water for five years,' that's our
risk and we're willing to take it," Borowsky said.
CHAMBER HEAD DISAPPOINTED
the president and CEO of the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce,
hoped the council would reconsider their decision.
"We are very
disappointed with the City Council's inability to reach a
consensus in favor of amending Snowbowl's water contract today.
Now, more than ever, our town's businesses need the impact of a
predictable winter ski season," Pastrick said. "We're hopeful
the issue will be reconsidered at a point in the near future, so
Snowbowl can begin construction as soon as possible."
Shanker, who is litigating on behalf of individuals opposed to
snowmaking with reclaimed wastewater, applauded the decision.
"I think the
City Council decision today was a step in the right direction,"
he said. "I think it showed that they're not just going to roll
over for Snowbowl. At least for now, it showed that they're not
only paying more attention to the tribes, but to all people
concerned with the allocation of scarce resources."
the city missed out on jobs, wildfire protection, and economic
stimulus that would have come with the business digging trenches
and starting construction by the end of the month.
That timing is
If a new water
source had been approved on Thursday, the Coconino National
Forest would again do letters and consultations with area
tribes, and need to do final approval for construction.
"The real crime
here is all of these opposition groups came in. And what did
they accomplish?" Borowsky said.
accomplished that we're going to be putting reclaimed water on
the mountain. That's exactly what the tribes did not want to
happen. The tribes should have been in here supporting potable.
These local activists are forcing us, which is fine, to put
reclaimed water on the mountain."
He is weighing
whether to approach certain members of the council to ask that
they reconsider White's split-the-difference proposal.
-- Cyndy Cole can be reached at
-- Joe Ferguson can be reached
email@example.com or 556-2253.