Flagstaff, AZ –
The long controversy over snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks seemed to have finally ended last June. That's when the US Supreme Court refused to reconsider a lower court decision that allowed Arizona Snowbowl to make artificial snow using treated wastewater. Several Indian tribes had sued to block the plan. They argued it would desecrate the Peaks, which they consider sacred.
But instead of allowing Snowbowl to move ahead, Department of Agriculture officials tried to negotiate a compromise. Northern Arizona congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick says they succeeded.
"I think it effectively addresses the major issues we're dealing with, it allows the Snowbowl to move forward with their project so we have a reliable ski season year after year. It allows Flagstaff to procure a long term water supply for the community, as well as respecting our Native American community."
The new proposal calls for Snowbowl to use what's called "stored water" to make artificial snow. That's treated wastewater that's been injected back into the aquifer, and then pumped out from 15 hundred feet below the ground.
Snowbowl owner Eric Borowsky says he likes this new plan even better than the original.
"It does respond to and address the concerns of the tribes, we chose reclaimed water because that was our only option when it was given to us, everyone knows the tribes were concerned with that, so I think this is truly a win-win situation the USDA has come up with."
But at least one tribe doesn't think so.
"The Hopi tribe will not support snowmaking with any water."
That's Leigh Kuwaniwisiyma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. He says it doesn't matter if the water comes directly from a water reclamation plant, or from deep underground.
"When you proced with substituting natural processes, snowfall, rain, with man-made introduction of snow from alternative water, it's still a desecration."
Still, representative Kirkpatrick says conversations with tribes have been "Productive."
The new plan is more expensive. Both Arizona Senators McCain and Kyl oppose the estimated 11 million dollar price tag for new infrastructure. In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack they said they will object to any attempt to secure an earmark or congressional approval of the project.
Arizona Snowbowl Owner Eric Borowsky says he's ready to move ahead with construction as soon as he gets Vilsack's go-ahead.
"We've got contractors on standby, pump manufacturers and snowmaking equipment manufacturers on standby, so everyone's ready to go, so literally the day the USDA officially tells us we have a notice to proceed, we will be ready to start, so hopefully it will be this season."
Borowsky says the first stage of construction, which includes the snowmaking system, will cost 17 million dollars. The second 15 million dollar phase will improve chairlifts and the lodges.
Meanwhile Snowbowl is wrapping up a record breaking season this weekend. Borowsky says they'll have 206 thousand skier visits this year the first time the ski area has broken the 200 thousand mark in its 72 year history. With snowmaking, he believes they'll host a quarter million skiers every winter.