Friday, September 28, 2012

Waste-water snow on a sacred mountain

by Salman Hameed

I have written about the issue of the telescopes on Mauna Kea before. What makes the debate over Mauna Kea interesting is that astronomers are not exactly doing it for monetary profits (though the allure of grant money can be looked in the same light). However, there are many other cases where native religions in the US clash with hotel and resort builders. Here is a case of the use of waste-water snow on a mountain ski resort near Flagstaff, Arizona:

Klee Benally, a member of the Navajo tribe, has gone to the mountains just north of here to pray, and he has gone to get arrested. He has chained himself to excavators; he has faced down bulldozers. For 10 years, the soft-spoken activist has fought a ski resort’s expansion plans in the San Francisco Peaks that include clear-cutting 74 acres of forest and piping treated sewage effluent onto a mountain to make snow.
But he appears to be losing the battle. 
In February, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the ski resort’s upgrade plans, ending a legal saga fought by a coalition of environmental groups and 13 American Indian tribes, which consider the mountain sacred and view the wastewater snow as a desecration.
This coming ski season, the resort, Arizona Snowbowl, will become the first ski resort in the world to use 100 percent sewage effluent to make artificial snow. 
“It’s a disaster, culturally and environmentally,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs. He worries about the impact on the delicate alpine tundra and to human health should skiers fall into the treated sewer-water snow and ingest it. 
The basic structure of alliances usually remain the same: government and businesses arguing for the economic benefit of the local community and the native tribes and environmental groups arguing for the protection:

Half of all alpine ski areas in the United States, including the big names of Vail, Aspen and Lake Tahoe, are on public land, and many of them are faced with the choice of expanding or going out of business. “A ski resort, to remain competitive, has to hit certain dates. They have to guarantee they’ll be open by Thanksgiving, Christmas at the latest,” said Jim Bedwell, director of the Forest Service’s Recreation and Heritage Resources. 
“Everyone does well when the ski area does well,” said J. R. Murray, general manager of Snowbowl. 
But Indians, who pray and hold ceremonies on the mountain, feel their concerns are too easily swept aside. “Our culture can still be reduced to something that is less important than the profit margin on a ski resort,” Mr. Benally said. “That’s a very, very hard place to be in.” 
The wastewater snow, Indians say, will ruin a mountain they consider sacred ground as well as the ecosystem, a concern shared by environmental groups. When it melts, it “could degrade water quality of the aquifers,” said Rob Smith, regional staff director at the Sierra Club. 
Read the full article here.

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