The Hopi Tribe has followed up on a threat to sue the city of Flagstaff for maintaining a contract to sell treated wastewater for snowmaking at an Arizona ski resort.
The tribe filed the lawsuit earlier this month in Coconino County Superior Court. It seeks to invalidate the contract that requires Flagstaff to send 552 acre feet of treated wastewater per year to the Arizona Snowbowl. The tribe also wants the court to declare that spraying the San Francisco Peaks with manmade snow is a health hazard, will create a public nuisance, and infringe on the tribe’s rights to water and religious freedom.
The harm to the tribe, its members, the environmental resources and the public “outweigh any benefit of making snow from reclaimed wastewater,” the lawsuit states.
City spokeswoman Kimberly Ott declined comment Monday.
The tribe put the city on notice in February that it would sue over the contract if the city officials did not cancel it or pay the tribe $40 million in damages. The city issued no response, Ott said.
Spraying artificial snow on the mountain that at least 13 American Indian tribes regard as sacred has been a contentious issue for years. The tribes claim it would infringe on their religious rights. Hopis, for example, consider Hart Prairie at the base of the ski resort the spiritual birthing place of the Kachina, which brings the world water, snow and life.
The owners of the Snowbowl say their business cannot survive without snowmaking.
The tribe’s claims against the city of Flagstaff are similar to those made in two federal lawsuits. Area tribes fought the snowmaking plan based on religious grounds but lost the years-long battle at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.
A separate lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service that calls the treated wastewater a health threat is pending in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The owners of the Snowbowl have intervened in that case and asked the court to issue a decision by the end of the year, which was denied. The Snowbowl owners contend they’re losing several million dollars a year in revenue and rising construction costs because of litigation.
The equipment won’t be in place this year for skiers to head down the slopes on artificial snow, though the owners have started laying some of the pipeline for transporting water. Critics of the plan have continued their protests by chaining themselves to construction equipment and blocking access to the roadways.