The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled against the Hopi Tribe in its fight against artificial snowmaking happening at the Arizona Snowbowl outside Flagstaff.
The legal battle began in 2011 when the Hopi Tribe filed suit against a yet-to-be-named defendant in Flagstaff, USA Today reports. In it, the tribe asserted its right to claim “special damages” from the use of machine-made snow from powder guns fed by reclaimed wastewater, arguing the practice was damaging to the San Francisco Peaks, which it considers sacred.
Snowmelt from the man-made snow was likely to contaminate groundwater, the tribe argued. A lower state court had previously sided with the Hopi Tribe.
But according to AZ Central, tribal resistance to the resort long predates current legislation:
“Local tribes have fought Snowbowl since its foundation, but first went to court in 1981, when the resort announced plans for massive expansion. The Hopi Tribe, among others, sued to block those plans, arguing that they would prevent their First Amendment right to practice their religion. The tribes lost that case in federal court.”
Ultimately, the latest chapter in the “extensively debated and litigated” dispute came down to the legal nuances of “special damages,” says the court’s 5-2 filing. The city of Flagstaff maintains that it treats its wastewater to the highest possible standards and that it represents no threat to human health and safety.
For the city, the ruling closes out the latest controversial chapter in the history of a divisive hill. Again from AZ Central:
“The case carried an unspoken tension in the still-small town of Flagstaff. Many locals placed themselves on one side or the other, with little room in between. As the case slogged through the courts, Flagstaffians learned not to bring it up. It was better left undebated.”