FLAGSTAFF-On Dec. 13, the Flagstaff City Council announced that utilities director Ron Doba renewed a contract to sell treated sewage effluent to Arizona Snowbowl for snowmaking purposes on the San Francisco Peaks.
"The decision by Ron Doba is alarming because it was a closed door deal made by a single person," said Rudy Preston of the Flagstaff Activist Network. "Considering the environmental, cultural and public health impacts with the proposed use of treated sewage effluent, our elected officials should have given an opportunity to the citizens of this community to participate in what should be a public process."
Snowbowl has proposed a controversial expansion plan, which includes building a 14.8 mile buried pipeline to transport 180 million gallons of wastewater per season to a 10 million gallon storage pond for snowmaking on 205 acres of the Peaks. The plan also calls for facilities expansion and clear cutting and "grading/stumping" up to 100 acres of old growth trees. The plan could not go through without the sale of wastewater from the city of Flagstaff.
"It appears that the City got a 'legal opinion' before proceeding in this fashion. As a result, the City successfully avoided any public debate and minimized public input and scrutiny. Public participation in this process was further limited by the fact that the City renewed the contract about three months before the actual renewal date." Said Howard Shanker, the attorney representing the Navajo Nation, the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the Yavapai-Apache Tribe, the Havasupai Tribe, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Flagstaff Activist Network, in the ongoing litigation over the use of reclaimed wastewater on the San Francisco Peaks.
"This is not the way that decisions on issues that are controversial and/or of great concern to the public should be made. The mayor and city council effectively found a way to pass the buck…[they], however, need to be accountable for their official actions. If the city government was functioning properly, there would have been a time set aside for public discourse. The city should…have given the Tribes the courtesy of advanced warning and an opportunity to meet with city leaders to discuss their concerns. Whether the council vote was ultimately for or against renewal, there should have been a vote. This was an issue that should have been met head on by the city council, not approved 'administratively' behind closed doors," Mr. Shanker said.
More than 13 Native American Nations hold the Peaks sacred. They are considered a sensitive mountain ecosystem, home to threatened species and part of the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world. The Forest Service, which manages the San Francisco Peaks, leases part of the mountain to Snowbowl.
"The City Council obviously doesn't care and doesn't want to hear about our cultural concerns," said Klee Benally a volunteer with the Save the Peaks Coalition. "This decision and the way it was made [further perpetuates] the insults contained in Snowbowl's proposed desecration for the ways of life of over 13 Native American nations."
"On March 17th of this year we submitted petitions with thousands of signatures urging the Flagstaff City Council not to renew the contract for the sale of wastewater to Snowbowl," stated Kelvin Long, director of ECHOES. "We specifically requested notification of any decision on the contract two weeks in advance. The voices of thousands of concerned citizens have completely been ignored."
On Dec. 21, reclaimed wastewater expert Dr. Cathy Propper presented her latest findings to the Water Commission in the Flagstaff City Council chambers. The Save the Peaks Coalition organized a demonstration prior to the meeting to call for a full public process on the decision to sell wastewater to Arizona Snowbowl.
Tribes and environmental groups including the Flagstaff Activist Network and the Sierra Club filed lawsuits against the Forest Service to block the expansion and wastewater snowmaking plan. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has not yet issued a decision on the case.