Snowbowl Protesters Face Charges for "Quarantine" of Forest Service Office

Four people are accused of violating federal law when they took to a Forest Service office in Coconino County in September to protest the use of reclaimed water to create snow at Arizona Snowbowl.

Perhaps there's some irony involved here, but one of the protesters' concerns is that the reclaimed water could contain materials that are hazardous to humans. One of the protesters is facing charges related to dumping some clear liquid on the ground in the office, and a federal complaint says Forest Service employees "were extremely concerned that the liquid spilled could be hazardous."

The case against the four protesters -- Klee Benally, Dawn Dyer, Michael Anders, and Evan Hawbaker -- was just filed yesterday, and they were among about 20 people at that protest, which was billed as a demonstration to "quarantine" the lobby of the office.

Some people dressed in white jumpsuits and masks, some tied "caution" tape up around the office, there were several types of signs, and of course, there was the bucket of liquid.

According to the federal complaint, Forest Service employees kept trying to get the protesters to leave that Friday afternoon, which a Forest Service agent says is the busiest time for the office, as people stop by for permits and other things for weekend adventures.

While trying to get everyone out, one employee noticed a five-gallon bucket on its side, and the employee saw "a large amount of relatively clear liquid that ran across the tile and carpet near the front doors."

Some points on the liquid from the federal complaint:

"There was a small white cardboard sign in the center of the clear liquid that read, 'Caution contains Treated Sewage Effluent,' in large blue letters, and 'Reclaimed Water, Hazardous constituants: antibiotics, fecal matter, endocrine disrupters, prescription drugs, narcotics, birth control pharmaceut'l, carcinogens,' in small lettering below it...

"Several of the USFS employees had observed the individuals wearing the white suits and masks and were extremely concerned that the liquid spilled could be hazardous...

"Aware of the USFS employees concerns, [a USFS captain] called the Flagstaff Fire Department for their assistance with a potential hazardous material incident...

"The Flagstaff Fire Department dispatched three fire engines, one special operations HazMat truck, and ten firefighters to ensure that the unknown liquid was not hazardous."

At that point, it appears that the irony of the situation was lost on the Forest Service, although they probably did the right thing, from their perspective.

After a second-by-second review of the surveillance footage from inside the office, the Forest Service investigators knew what pretty much everyone was doing at any given moment.

That has now resulted in federal charges of interfering with Forest Employees "in the performance of [their] official duties for the improvement and administration of the National Forest System..."

Each of the four people named in the complaint face two of these charges, except Hawbaker -- the alleged bucket-tipper -- who faces four.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley