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Hopis to sue Flag

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Snowbowl Snowmaking
The USDA OK'd snowmaking at Arizona Snowbowl, using either reclaimed wastewater or tapping directly into Flagstaff's potable water lines in July 2010. (Josh Biggs/Arizona Daily Sun, file)

A tribe that has sued the U.S. Forest Service unsuccessfully over permitting treated effluent to be used for snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks is now going after the city of Flagstaff.

The Hopi Tribe said it plans to sue the city over the council's decision to sell reclaimed wastewater to Arizona Snowbowl.

"We have to protect what is sacred to us," said LeRoy Shingoitewa, Hopi chairman since 2009.

In the alternative, the tribe would settle for $40 million -- or $7 million less than Snowbowl once proposed as its asking price when pressed to negotiate with local tribes.

The Hopi Tribe doesn't really want financial compensation. But it is legally required to state some amount that would settle the case as part of the notice that they intend to sue, said the tribe's chairman and its attorney.

The letter sent to the city asserts that snowmaking will adversely affect the flora and fauna of the San Francisco Peaks, including endangered species, and will cause a public "nuisance."

It states that selling water to Snowbowl will harm the tribe's rights to groundwater, technically violates one provision of Arizona's administrative code, and could harm public health.

And it raises the possibility that a court would hold up enforcement of the contract allowing the city's water sale because, in the tribe's view, that contract doesn't comply with state law.

"We're giving notice to Flagstaff of our concern and, really, we're just following the legal steps that have to be taken," Shingoitewa said.

Those opposed to snowmaking with reclaimed wastewater on the Peaks have limited options going forward.

The first case arguing that snowmaking infringed on tribal religious and spiritual beliefs was defeated at the 9th Circuit and not accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court for review.

A second legal case arguing the health risks of snowmaking is likely to be appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, after opponents lost the first round.

The individuals in that lawsuit are seeking a prohibition on construction and logging until that case is decided.

Snowbowl wants to start construction this year unless an injunction is issued.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at or 913-8607.


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