by CYNDY COLE, Sun Staff Reporter
Arizona Daily Sun
03 July 2010
Snowbowl Decision, in Brief
(Arizona Daily Sun; 03 July 2010)
- Arizona Snowbowl received
final clearance Friday to build snowmaking infrastructure on
the San Francisco Peaks.
- After USDA unsuccessfully
attempted to broker a sale (see related story), the question
now is what water source Snowbowl would use to make snow for
skiers, probably in the winter of 2011-2012.
- Legal challenges remain a
If Snowbowl uses reclaimed
wastewater from the wastewater treatment plant, the cost is
lower, and Snowbowl already has an agreement in place, but there
is a lawsuit pending against it.
If it uses potable water, the
cost is higher, a federal subsidy will be sought by Snowbowl,
and the Flagstaff City Council would have to approve a new
Sale of Snowbowl in Play
during Permit Delay
Negotiations during the past
year regarding the fate of Arizona Snowbowl has been tumultuous
Current U.S. Supreme Court
nominee Elena Kagan asked the nation's highest court not to hear
the case opposing snowmaking in May 2009, when she was working
as solicitor general.
The Supreme Court did decline to
hear the case last June, but a final decision remained in limbo,
held up at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Snowbowl was
first approved for an upgrade by the Coconino National Forest in
So Arizona Snowbowl and its
attorneys persistently lobbied Agriculture to try to get the
permit even as the USDA sought a solution suitable to area
Here are some highlights of
those secret negotiations, based in part on documents obtained
by the Arizona Daily Sun.
—Snowbowl owner Eric Borowsky
proposed the federal government pay for upgrades at the ski
area, pay to build a pipeline to import water from near Twin
Arrows east of Flagstaff for making snow, or buy the ski area
and land at the base of Snowbowl Road for $47 million, in
conjunction with regional tribes, or about 10 times more than
Borowsky paid for the place.
"We discussed at length that if the Navajo Nation does buy the
Arizona Snowbowl, it is very important to position the purchase
as a business transaction rather than USDA pressure," Borowsky
wrote to Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary at the USDA in
His general manager was to give tribes a tour of the ski area
without signaling to employees that the place could be up for
—Navajo Nation President Joe
Shirley asked Merrigan to end skiing at Snowbowl, or for
federal money to help the tribes buy Snowbowl.
"The ideal resolution would be to stop skiing in the area,"
he wrote in an August 2009 letter.
Failing that, Shirley seemed to support a new source of
water for snowmaking, but also to say the use of drinking
water for such activities could be controversial.
"Many people in the region, including many tribes, have an
interest and stake in the allocation of such a scarce
resource as fresh water. In short, the Navajo Nation and
those tribal leaders from other tribes with whom we have had
contact unanimously agree that if you could stop the
proposed use of reclaimed sewer water on a mountain that is
sacred to well over 300,000 people, your efforts would
likely resolve the current dispute."
—Attorney Howard Shanker,
working on behalf of the Navajo Nation, proposed the federal
government pay the cost of Snowbowl's buildings at the ski
area, at far less than the $47 million Snowbowl had set for
a price tag, and that the tribes reimburse this cost.
—By November 2009,
Borowsky's letters to the USDA took on a less-patient tone,
and he repeatedly asked for permission to build, saying he
had taken every step the agency had asked and that the ski
area would not financially survive without snowmaking.
Federal judges hearing the case
earlier came to split decisions on that last point, of financial
viability without snowmaking, and the balance sheet for Snowbowl
remains sealed to the public.
"My intent or interest was not
to sell the ski area," he wrote to Merrigan.
He stated a bank had rescinded
financing for development at the ski area until he had final
permission to build.
"The Navajo Nation does not want
to buy the ski area and we do not want to sell the ski area."
An associate of Borowsky's noted
in a letter that the USDA was pressing Borowsky to sell the ski
area to the tribes.
Cyndy Cole can be reached at
913-8607 or at