Sacred Hypocrisy

I consider myself an environmentalist.

And I've long been a strong supporter of Native American rights.

But in recent days I have become outraged over the astounding hypocrisy of both groups in their opposition to a proposal that would allow for a relatively small expansion of the Arizona Snowbowl.

The red and green coalition is vehemently opposed to the U.S. Forest Service's approval of a plan that allows the Snowbowl to use a portion of Flagstaff's reclaimed water for snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks.

Snowmaking would guarantee that the Snowbowl would be open at least 100 days during ski season and give the operation far more economic stability. While this winter has been blessed by heavy snow, the mountain was parched in 2001-02 and the ski area was open only four days.

The economic stability that comes with snowmaking will allow the owners to build new lifts, improve the lodges, build a tubing snow park suitable for young children, and expand ski runs from 135 acres to 205.

"Our role here is to teach people how to ski and to provide family recreation," says Snowbowl manager J. R. Murray.

But that's not what Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley believes is going to happen to the mountain -- which, by the way, is not on reservation land.

Shirley claims the Snowbowl expansion and use of reclaimed water for snowmaking will have a devastating effect on Native peoples throughout the region.

"When you build on it, when you talk about putting wastewater on it, you are desecrating our life. You are chipping away at our way of life and committing genocide," Shirley says.


Give me a break!

Meanwhile, Shirley's environmental buddies are spewing forth equally inane statements.

"This plan is culturally and environmentally destructive," says Andy Bessler, a representative of the Sierra Club.

Come on, Andy. I'm with you on most of the Sierra Club's agenda, but not this.

You would think the Forest Service was about to nuke the San Francisco Peaks and ship the radioactive rubble to China to be turned into electronic trinkets.

One of the nation's first ski areas, open since 1938, the Snowbowl leases 777 acres from the Forest Service for its entire operation. The ski area is on only a sliver of the vast mountain and is surrounded by 18,960 acres of federal wilderness area that can never be developed.

The wilderness protects significant Native American cultural resources, endangered plants and animals and sacred sites. The Arizona Snowbowl operation does not threaten the sanctity of these areas.

The Snowbowl also offers the public a unique and relatively unspoiled recreational opportunity. Most of the people who ski on the mountain each winter come from the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Unlike most Western ski resorts, the landscape near the Snowbowl will remain uncorrupted by glitzy restaurants, expensive condominiums and trendy clothiers. There's a dirt parking lot and couple of rustic lodges that sell lousy food and expensive beer.

The reclaimed water meets state and federal standards and has been used by the city of Flagstaff for more than a decade to water parks, schoolyards and golf courses. What's not used is discharged down the Rio de Flag and eventually seeps into the groundwater.

The cries of environmental destruction and cultural murder from Navajo and Hopi leaders ring hollow.

At the very same time Shirley and Hopi tribal chairman Wayne Taylor are agonizing over the Snowbowl, they are strongly supporting a plan that will continue ongoing massive environmental destruction on their respective lands.

Both men want to continue strip coal mining operations on more than 20,000 acres of another sacred mountain -- Black Mesa. For the last 35 years, Peabody Western Coal Company has operated huge mines on Navajo and Hopi land.

Peabody also pumps more than 1.3 billion gallons of pristine groundwater a year from beneath the reservations for use in a slurry pipeline that transports pulverized coal from the mine to the Mohave Generating Station 273 miles away in Laughlin, Nevada.

Mohave is one of the dirtiest coal plants in the West. Its emissions pollute the skies above the Grand Canyon and half a dozen other national parks in the Southwest. The electric plant is slated to be closed at the end of this year unless its operator -- Southern California Edison -- agrees to invest more than $1 billion in pollution controls.

Not only is the plant a major air-pollution source, the groundwater pumping is adversely affecting important Hopi springs. Former Hopi tribal chairman Vernon Masayesva has steadfastly fought to stop Peabody from continuing to pump groundwater.

The springs are the linchpin of traditional Hopi culture.

Masayesva and the group he founded, Black Mesa Trust, have developed alternatives to continued coal mining on the reservations, including development of a massive solar-generating facility, a wind farm and far cleaner coal gasification technology.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty