FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - A federal judge will now have to decide whether the former, original reclaimed wastewater artificial snowmaking venture is safe for the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort following the Flagstaff City Council's 5-2 vote last Thursday against allowing the use of potable water for snowmaking this coming year.
After a lengthy Monday night public meeting where public testimony lasted past midnight, the city council decided to hold off on making a final decision until Thursday's meeting because of all the personal and tribal public testimony.
If the current lawsuit on the safety of using reclaimed wastewater for snowmaking finds that use of reclaimed wastewater is not suitable for artificial snow, there could be a reconsideration of a five-year option for using fresh drinking water. That consideration will most likely not come until next week when the city council meets again. The city also had the option of nullifying the lawsuit by approving the sale of drinking water.
Though the audience cheered the city council's final decision not to use fresh water for snowmaking, it was only a small victory because the original agreement for potentially using wastewater for snowmaking was still in effect.
If Snowbowl owner Eric Borowsky wins his lawsuit, which would only delay the expansion of the ski resort, then snowmaking using reclaimed wastewater would still occur, which tribal groups had objected to in the first place.
The final vote had city council members Coral Evans, Celia Barotz, Al White, Art Babbott and Scott Overton voting against the freshwater snowmaking idea, and Mayor Sara Presler and Karla Brewster voting for the measure. All had different and varied ideas of why they opposed or supported the freshwater amended change.
Brewster felt that using fresh drinking water would end the lawsuit and allow Borowsky to start with expansion efforts, which Borowsky and snowmaking proponents stated would also provide Flagstaff with new jobs this winter.
Babbott stated that tribal concerns weren't a big influence for him, which included what he felt were mixed messages from Hopi Tribal Chairman Leroy Shingoitewa, who stated at Monday night's public meeting that if the sale of fresh drinking water was confirmed, the Hopi Tribe's partnership with the city of Flagstaff as an owner of several businesses could be in jeopardy. Shingoitwa also brought up that the city council had mentioned Red Gap Ranch's right of way for this new pipeline, which could be a potential issue with the Hopi Tribe as well since the city would have to seek permission from the tribe to allow this.
Though Mayor Presler agreed that this decision had caused a great deal of division for Flagstaff and surrounding tribes, it was a business venture and those considerations needed to be brought into the discussion. She felt personally, that the freshwater snowmaking was a much better idea than using wastewater for the project, so she voted to support the fresh drinking water idea.
Barotz and Evans brought up the continued concerns with the $11 million federal subsidy support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that has been discussed, but had not been confirmed. When USDA officials did not show at the Monday night meeting, concerns were expressed about whether this money even existed.
However, by the Thursday meeting, USDA representative Alan Stephens was present and told the audience that the idea to use drinking water did not come from the USDA, but from the city of Flagstaff. He also said that the $11 million being discussed had not been finalized but that the Snowbowl proposal would be considered just like all the other applicants for USDA water projects.
If the council had approved the sale of drinking water for snowmaking, Borowsky had planned to move immediately on his infrastructure construction plans, even though approval would have meant further consultation with local tribes and final approval for the pipeline construction plans before he could actually start.
Borowsky was visibly disappointed with Thursdays vote, but tribal members in attendance felt they had at least won a delay in their quest to stop any kind of proposed artificial snowmaking for now and were happily sharing their win with one another outside the council chambers.
Borowsky stated, "The tribes and their supporting environmental groups really should have been here supporting using potable water for the project. The only thing they accomplished today was to now force us to use wastewater, which is what they said they really objected to originally. But that's fine with us."