Year after year, trash and traffic clutters Highway 180 when snow begins falling in winter.
This winter season marks the first since the Flagstaff Snow Park began using potable water snowmaking, which was utilized in order to divert snowplay traffic from the Highway 180 corridor. This past weekend was made difficult by the government shutdown, which prevented the help of one of the partner agencies that normally enforces trash and traffic regulations — the United States Forest Service.
Jonathan Allen, president of Flagstaff Snow Park, said they had five runs open and had 3,900 people come through Saturday and Sunday. These visitors came to the park after the Coconino County Board of Supervisors allowed them to use one million gallons of potable water for snowmaking on its slopes. The board felt the park's request was appropriate given how much potable water is used by other local recreation opportunities.
Since the day after Christmas, Allen said the park has had more than 22,320 people riding down the slopes on reusable tubes. Allen underlined the fact that the partnership with the county was intended to help alleviate snowplay trash and traffic, not solve the problem entirely.
“We never claimed that it would eliminate trash or traffic, but that it would help mitigate it to some degree,” Allen said. “We had 22,000 people out here that didn’t go leave sleds in the forest, didn’t go to Crowley Pit, didn’t go to the Highway 180.”
Coconino County Supervisor Art Babbott said that they had increased messaging and attempts to get out information about the county’s winter recreation hotline, which can divert groups to Happy Jack and Clint’s Well.
“The other really important part of mitigating the negative implications of traffic and congestion has come through increased enforcement and signage,” Babbott said. The supervisor added that they have created tools to assist with enforcement by the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office.
The Forest Service has been absent this winter recreation session because of the government shutdown. Normally the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Coconino County Sheriff’s Office and Forest Service's law enforcement monitor the corridor for trash and traffic violations, Babbott said.
“What I can tell you is that the Forest Service, the law enforcement of the forest service and their staff are critical partners in managing recreation on our public lands,” Babbott said. “The shutdown, without question, is negatively impacting our ability to manage visitation on national forest lands across Coconino County.”
From last Friday to Monday, the Arizona Department of Public Safety issued 40 citations along the 180 for parking violations, according to department spokesperson James Carne.
“Parking along US 180 is not only unsafe, but illegal within ADOT’s right of way,” Carne said. “No parking signs are posted along US 180 warning motorists not to park or stop along the roadway unless it is an emergency.”
A county ordinance signed in 2017 added in a $200 fine for those caught illegally parking on the roadway, Babbott said.
The Coconino County Sheriff's Office and Forest Service were unable to respond for comment.
Several community organizations have sprung up throughout the years to clean the forest trash left behind by visitors, despite many dumpsters placed in the Highway 180 corridor.
Tiffany Lujan went out to Forest Road 794 with her dog Judd to go cross-country skiing during the weekend. As she drove toward Forest Road 794 on a road connected to Highway 180, she saw trash scattered at every turnoff.
When she got to her destination, she and Judd jumped out of the car to find broken sleds, coffee cups and plastic trash scattered throughout the parking lot.
“I want people to enjoy the outdoors,” Lujan said. “I’m glad people are getting outside, exercising. Just leave no trace.”
She felt that having designated snowplay areas is good for the community, but wished people playing in the snow would be cleaner.
“I should have packed a trash bag to take with me,” Lujan said. “It’s saddening.”
WASHINGTON — With no breakthrough in sight, President Donald Trump will argue his case to the nation tonight that a "crisis" at the U.S.-Mexico border requires the long and invulnerable wall he's demanding before ending the partial government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers face missed paychecks Friday as the shutdown drags through a third week.
Trump's Oval Office speech — his first as president — will be followed by his visit Thursday to the southern border to highlight his demand for a barrier. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted that he will use the visit to "meet with those on the front lines of the national security and humanitarian crisis."
The administration is also at least talking about the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow Trump to move forward on the wall without Congress approving the $5.6 billion he wants. Vice President Mike Pence said the White House counsel's office is looking at the idea. Such a move would certainly draw legal challenges, and Trump — who told lawmakers he would be willing to keep the government closed for months or even years — has said he would like to continue negotiations for now.
Trump's prime-time address will be carried live by ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, MSNBC and NBC.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer called on the networks to give Democrats a chance to respond. "Now that the television networks have decided to air the President's address, which if his past statements are any indication will be full of malice and misinformation, Democrats must immediately be given equal airtime," they wrote in a joint statement released Monday night.
As Trump's speech and border visit were announced, newly empowered House Democrats — and at least a few Republican senators — stepped up pressure on GOP lawmakers to reopen the government without giving in to the president's demands. The closure, which has lasted 17 days, already is the second-longest in history and would become the longest this weekend.
Leaning on Senate Republicans, some of whom are growing anxious about the impact of the shutdown, Pelosi said the House would begin passing individual bills this week that would reopen federal agencies, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds.
The White House tried to pre-empt the Democrats, telling reporters Monday that tax refunds would be paid despite the shutdown. That shutdown exemption would break from the practice of earlier administrations and could be challenged.
"There is an indefinite appropriation to pay tax refunds. As a result ... the refunds will go out as normal," said Russell Vought, acting director of the White House budget office.
The shutdown furloughed 380,000 federal workers and forced another 420,000 to work without pay. The National Park Service said it was dipping into entrance fees to pay for staffing at some highly visited parks to maintain restrooms, clean up trash and patrol the grounds, after reports of human waste and garbage overflowing in some spots.
Over the weekend, the federal agency tasked with guaranteeing U.S. airport security acknowledged an increase in the number of its employees missing work or calling in sick.
But Trump and the Transportation Security Administration pushed back on any suggestion that the call-outs at the agency represented a "sickout" that was having a significant effect on U.S. air travel. TSA said it screened more than 2.2 million passengers Sunday, a historically busy day due to holiday travel. Ninety percent waited less than 15 minutes, the agency said.
"We are grateful to the more than 51,000 agents across the country who remain focused on the mission and are respectful to the traveling public," said TSA spokesman Michael Bilello.
The talks over ending the shutdown have been at an impasse over Trump's demand for the wall. He has offered to build the barrier with steel rather than concrete, billing that as a concession to Democrats' objections. They "don't like concrete, so we'll give them steel," he said.
But Democrats have made clear that they object to the wall itself, not how it's constructed. They see it as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed-upon levels.
"Maybe he thinks he can bully us. But I'm from Brooklyn. You let a bully succeed, you'll be bullied again worse," Schumer said at a breakfast with the Association for a Better New York.
At the White House, spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp complained that Democratic leaders have yet to define what they mean when they say they are for enhancing border security.
"Democrats want to secure the border? Great. Come to the table," she said Monday. "We are willing to come to a deal to reopen the government."
Trump tasked Pence during the shutdown fight to negotiate with Democrats, including during talks over the weekend with Democratic staffers. But the vice president is increasingly being called upon to prevent defections in the GOP ranks.
Asked whether cracks were forming between the White House and Republicans eager for the shutdown to end, Pence told reporters, "We've been in touch with those members and others."
Nearly a week after High Country Humane opened its doors, the number of animals it has received has risen from 12 to 75.
A large portion of that has been made up by puppies, almost 30 in all, said President of High Country Humane Diane Jarvis.
“The response has been wonderful from the public,” Jarvis said. “It’s been going really well.”
So far, High Country Humane has been able to return 12 animals to their owners and adopted two animals out, said executive director Steve Conrad. They currently have four animals up for adoption, two cats and two dogs, and seven are available to be fostered out at this time.
High Country Humane, which opened on Jan. 2, is acting as the new city and county animal shelter after it won both contracts last year.
However, this begs the question as to what the future holds for Coconino Humane Association.
Michelle Ryan, the executive director of the Humane Association, said despite losing the contracts with the city and county, they are excited about their future plans and are very much still open and welcoming animals.
Ryan declined to go into too much detail, but said that the Humane Association is looking to expand, providing services to other areas and other municipalities across Coconino County, such as Page or Tuba City. Animal welfare remains an issue across the county, with reservation animals a key example.
Ryan said although the contracts they had with the city and county were part of the business they did, they have never relied on them for their survival. The same goes for the two contracts they have with the Hopi reservation and Williams, from which they receive only a few hundred animals a year.
Coconino Humane Association was also given a substantial donation of $340,000 from an estate to be put toward its veterinary services so it can “continue to provide services for years to come,” Ryan said.
And it still has more than 100 animals at the shelter and received 22 since the beginning of the year. However, now that it no longer holds the contracts, the Humane Association does not accept stray animals from the city and county.
Because of this, some animals had to be turned away, but those who bring them in are being referred to High Country Humane. This may be an issue for some who, after being directed to the new shelter, elected to simply release the stray animals rather than bring them in.
Flagstaff animal control officer Shalaine Bigler said they have seen a few instances of this after people were referred to the new shelter.
At an apartment complex near Fourth Street, a resident witnessed a couple drop off four cats and then leave, Bigler said. The couple matched the description of two people who had tried to drop four cats off at the Coconino Humane Association shelter earlier that day, Bigler added.
Bigler also said they have also been getting reports of a dog that appears to be lost and wandering around the Lower Greenlaw Estates neighborhood. While they can’t be sure that the dog in question was abandoned there, Bigler said an animal that looks lost is a sign that it may have been dumped in the area.
Jarvis said they hadn’t heard about the incidents, but said that she was somewhat surprised that people would dump stray animals rather than bringing them to the newly opened facility.
Although High Country Humane is out of town, Jarvis said, it is only about six miles past the mall on an paved road that is easy to navigate.
Nonetheless, if people see a stray animal and want to help, but don’t have the time or ability to bring it to a shelter, they should call animal control, Jarvis said.
Bigler agreed, adding that it can be dangerous to relocate animals to an area that they are not familiar with.
With the discovery of rabies in some wild animals recently, Bigler added it is also a priority to get stray dogs and cats into shelters, and at times it is best for members of the public to just call animal control.
FLAGSTAFF — A Navajo Nation energy company studying the purchase of a coal-fired power plant on the reservation says it's looking into the mine that supplies it, too.
The tribal government asked the Navajo Transitional Energy Company in October to look into acquiring the Navajo Generating Station near Page along the Arizona-Utah border. Its owners are closing it in December, citing cheaper power from natural gas.
The energy company says it wants to keep the plant and Kayenta Mine open for at least another 10 years to preserve hundreds of jobs held mostly by Navajos, as well as the revenue. The company's board met recently and said it would pursue both.
"NTEC is not going lightly into this venture, I assure you that," the company's chief executive, Clark Moseley, told tribal lawmakers in late December.
The company was created to buy a coal mine in northwestern New Mexico and owns a 7 percent stake in the nearby Four Corners Power Plant. Moseley said that experience will help the company clear what had been a major hurdle for other companies that pulled out of negotiations for the Navajo Generating Station last year — finding someone to buy the power.
Utilities increasingly are moving away from coal as a power source. Moseley cited preliminary findings in saying entities are interested, but he didn't name any.
NTEC spokesman Erny Zah said the company could not go into details yet about power sales or the costs of acquiring the mine and power plant because of non-disclosure agreements.
Peabody Energy owns the Kayenta Mine and had launched a long-shot bid to find a new buyer for the power plant to sustain its own business. Peabody said Monday it supports continued operation of the mine but didn't respond to specific questions about a potential sale or whether it would operate the mine under tribal ownership.
No agreements have been reached, Zah said.
The Navajo Nation relies heavily on the coal industry for revenue. Incoming tribal President Jonathan Nez and new lawmakers, who will be sworn in next week, will have a say in whether the tribe owns the power plant and mine.
Dozens of people protested the possibility last week at a special session of the Navajo Nation Council. Nadine Narindrankura, who lives about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the Kayenta Mine, helped organize the protest. She said she's fearful Peabody is trying to push its responsibilities for restoring the land to pre-mining conditions and making up for the water used in mining operations onto someone else.
She and other environmentalists have advocated for the tribe to focus instead on renewable energy.
"In order to change things we really have to make this shift happen where our economies are diversified and we're not relying on things that destroy our subsistence from the land," she said.