(EDITOR’S NOTE: The 45-day public comment period on proposed Snowbowl improvements ends on Nov. 15. Mail them to Peaks Ranger District, 5075 N. Highway 89, Flagstaff, AZ 86004. For more information, call the Peaks Ranger District at 928-526-0866.)
Flagstaff — Round two of the U.S. Forest Service’s presentation of the proposed improvements at the Arizona Snowbowl was pretty much a repeat performance of the first one held on Oct. 10. The only difference was that on Oct. 26, it was snowing.
Sammy James and Milton Yazzie, Navajo activists, listened patiently to a Forest Service representative advise them on the most effective format for making their written comments.
It would be best, they were told, to make a concrete point, something specific, such as noise levels. They were also asked to consider suggestions or alternatives.
James expressed his disappointment in not being able to make an oral statement – a complaint common to many of the opponents to making artificial snow and expansion of the present Snowbowl amenities.
In James’ case, he expressed his concern that his written statement might be lost or discarded.
“I would like to look at people, have them look at me while they hear me,” James explained.
Although assured his comments would be duly noted, James looked dubious.
One non-Indian objector, desperate to be heard, honed in.
“It’s so unfair,” he said. “The Native Americans are being subjected to different standards. Their religions are not given the same respect. The Forest Service is saying, ‘Well, we’ve been to see Wayne Taylor or Kelsey Begaye, and they are considering the proposal.’ But it [the Forest Service] would never get away with telling us, ‘well, we’ve talked to Mayor Joe Donaldson, and he OK’d it for all of us.’”
Spent, he expressed his thanks for being heard out and turned to leave.
Snowbowl’s manager, J.R. Murray, was on hand to talk with people, and answer their questions. He encouraged the comment period, explaining that community concerns and support would determine what kind of analysis of the proposal would take place.
“The Forest Service will determine from the comments what the issues are,” Murray added.
As he spoke, the rain, which had misted the Flagstaff city landscape, turned into snow, to the delight of many in the room.
Murray’s attention was directed to a nearby bank of windows. He admitted that snow was building up at Snowbowl, but that the city’s recent support of proposed snowmaking certainly wasn’t premature.
“Three of the last four seasons have been very poor. We do have snow now, but we need to look at long-term patterns,” he said.
Murray has been manager of the Snowbowl since 1989.
Murray’s figures show a seasonal influx of $20 million annually to the Flagstaff economy. Seventy-six percent of the Snowbowl’s customers are from out of town.
There is no argument from the Snowbowl’s detractors that the ski resort does benefit the City of Flagstaff and its merchants.
But this is not about economics to members of 13 tribes and several environmental groups.
Milton Yazzie worries about the water – a proposed 10,000,000 gallon reclaimed water storage pond, with 1.5 million gallons to be used daily for snowmaking. This would see a discharge rate of approximately 180,000,000 gallons for a period of November to February.
What will happen when this amount of water is deprived from other areas accustomed to receiving it, he wonders.
Other features of the Proposed Action include 14 miles of buried pipeline, new lifts, new buildings, tree thinning on more than 42 acres and an expanded parking lot.
Jeneda Benally stood next to her mother, taking notes as Forest Service anthropologist Heather Coopers explained once again the process for approval or disapproval of the proposal. Both women were agitated to realize that the very first ski lodge at the Snowbowl site had been constructed in 1938. They questioned what rights native tribes had at that time to stop the desecration of their Sacred Peak?
“In 1938, Native Americans were not considered citizens, could not vote. If they had had civil rights, if they could have voted back then, they surely would have stopped this whole thing,” Benally said.
More recent actions add credence to her words. A proposal to build a full-scale resort including shops, restaurants and lodges was laid on the table in 1969. Tribal and community objection spurred a decade of oral and legal battles, ending with the Forest Service’s final decision. The result is Snowbowl’s current lodge and four lifts, serving 50 acres of ski trails.
In 1998, the Forest Service began the process of designating the San Francisco Peaks as a Traditional Cultural Property. The process has not been completed, and some Native American activists feel that the process should be completed before new development is even considered on the Peaks.
Other concerns include an extension of the ski season into spring and fall, both vulnerable periods for wildlife; added noise and light in a wilderness area, snowmaking additives, and, most importantly to members of the 13 tribes that hold the Peaks sacred, spiritual beliefs.