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Earth Notes

9th Circuit Hears Snowbowl Appeal

A \"Save the Peaks\" supporter outside the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco

By Daniel Kraker

Flagstaff, AZ – The 9th circuit court of appeals in San Francisco hears oral arguments tomorrow (later today) in a legal battle over snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks. Daniel Kraker reports from KNAU's Indian Country News Bureau.

Several area tribes and environmental groups will ask the 3 judge panel to block proposed upgrades at the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort on the San Francisco Peaks. Those upgrades include using reclaimed wastewater to make artificial snow. Snowbowl officials have said snowmaking is essential for the business to survive. Opponents like Klee Benally, a Navajo with the Save the Peaks coalition, say it's an affront to their cultural beliefs. More than a dozen area tribes hold the San Francisco Peaks sacred.

Benally: "It's really not just about one mountain, it's about our cultural, spritiual ways of life that are hanging in the balance here, this is what we need to protect and stand for."

Benally is holding a prayer vigil outside the San Francisco courthouse with about 50 other opponents of the project.

Arizona Snowbowl general manager JR Murray was unavailable for comment. But he told the Associated Press he doesn't doubt that opponents to the plan have deeply held beliefs. And he points out the resort is on public land.

In January the Arizona District Court upheld the proposal. Judge Paul Rosenblatt said the tribes failed to prove that their free exercise of religion will be impacted by the Snowbowl upgrades. The plaintiffs will again argue to the appellate court that snowmaking violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They'll also argue the US Forest Service failed to consider a range of scientific viewpoints, and also failed to consider the impacts of using 1.5 million gallons of reclaimed water daily water that's currently used to recharge the regional aquifer near Flagstaff.

For Arizona Public Radio, I'm Daniel Kraker