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Appeals court hears case over snowmaking at Ariz. Snowbowl

Phoenix, Arizona (AP) 12-07

A federal appeals court heard arguments during December from lawyers for an Arizona ski resort and Indian tribes battling over the resort’s plan to make snow using reclaimed wastewater at the Arizona Snowbowl resort north of Flagstaff.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of tribes seeking to block the plan in March, but the full court then decided to rehear the case.

Snowbowl’s owners and the federal government had urged the court to reconsider, arguing that the earlier ruling broke federal precedent and incorrectly applied provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They also argued that the ruling would force the federal government to rely completely on its own resources to examine plans and their impacts, rather than local or state government agencies.

The panel was acting on a suit filed by American Indian tribes who consider the San Francisco Peaks sacred.

“When you decide to contaminate it with reclaimed wastewater, with filth, to make snow, that doesn’t help my way of life,” Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said in a statement. “That doesn’t help when I talk to my children and grandchildren about the importance of our way of life, and the pride that is to be taken because of our way of life.”

The panel’s ruling in March blocked the resort’s plan to expand and add snowmaking equipment that would use treated wastewater. The ruling overturned an opinion by U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt in Phoenix, who said last year the tribes failed to show the project would affect their exercise of religion.

Arizona Snowbowl opened late in three of the last four years because of lack of snow, but is set to open Thursday, which would match its average opening date. The resort brings an estimated $10 million annually to Flagstaff’s economy.

The case is Navajo Nation et al v. U.S. Forest Service et al, 06-15371.

 

 

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