Marchers protest use of treated sewage to make snow on sacred peak

Pasadena, California (AP) 12-07

Chanting and beating drums, American Indians marched to a federal appeals court to oppose the use of treated sewage to make snow in Arizona mountains they hold sacred.

About 150 activists marched to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals during a hearing in the case.

A three-judge panel of the court ruled in March that using the treated wastewater to allow expansion of the Arizona Snowbowl resort would violate the religious freedom of Navajos, Hopis and 11 other tribes who had sued to block the expansion.

However, the full appellate court 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.

The 777-acre resort rests on the western flank of the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff. Resort owners also want to remove about 100 acres of forest and add a fifth lift to attract more skiers on manmade snow.

“The peaks are central to the practice of the Hopi religion,” said protester Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director for the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office in Arizona. “The mountains and the kachina spirits ... represent the heart and soul of our community.”

The U.S. Forest Service leases the land to the Arizona Snowbowl Resort. At the hearing, the 11-judge court was told the agency had the right to permit snowmaking on its own land.

Lane McFadden, an attorney representing the Forest Service, also said he considered the treated wastewater to be safe.

“I would let my kids play in that water,” he said.

As for imposing on Indian religious beliefs, McFadden said: “I believe their prayers will not be devastated.”

But Howard Shanker, an attorney representing several tribes, said the government “will contaminate their religious freedom” if snowmaking is allowed.

The appellate panel did not immediately rule in the case.

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