FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – A federal judge on Wednesday upheld a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to allow snowmaking by using treated wastewater at a northern Arizona ski resort.
The ruling dealt a blow to environmentalists in their latest effort to stop snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks – a fight that American Indian tribes lost in a separate yearslong lawsuit filed on religious grounds.
The Save the Peaks Coalition and a group of citizens sued the Forest Service in September 2009. They sought to have a judge force the agency to do a more thorough environmental assessment on the health and safety risks of using treated wastewater to spray artificial snow on the mountain that at least a dozen tribes consider sacred.
Snowbowl owner Eric Borowsky said he’s pleased with the judge’s ruling and that snowmaking equipment will be in place for next year’s ski season. “This is a vendetta by a vocal minority that is trying to close down the ski area,” he said.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Howard Shanker, said any reasonable person who read the environmental assessment would disagree with the judge and vowed to appeal the ruling. He has likened a ski resort that uses treated wastewater for snow to a “test facility with our children as the laboratory rats.” “The fact is that not even the government has a good grasp on all the contaminants that are left in this treated sewage effluent,” Shanker said.
U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia in Phoenix said that the Forest Service adequately considered the impacts of the snowmaking plan and that the record supported the agency’s decision to allow it. “Although the plaintiffs have consistently conveyed to this court their desire that the agency had reached a different conclusion and determined that the potential risk to human health posed by the ingestion of snow made from reclaimed water during recreation is too great to approve the proposal, that is not the court’s decision to make,” Murguia wrote.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, granted a permit in July for the construction of snowmaking equipment after a failed attempt to forge a compromise among tribal leaders and Snowbowl owners on the water source for snowmaking. The city of Flagstaff later affirmed its original contract to sell treated wastewater to the ski resort.
About 205 acres of the 777-acre ski resort will have snow made from reclaimed water.
The Forest Service said while the use of reclaimed water for snowmaking is not considered hazardous for recreational skiing and snow play, signs will be posted to urge people not to intentionally ingest snow.
Story by: Felicia Fonseca (AP) 2 Dec. 2010