News Ticker

Tombstone Appeals to Repair Water Supply

By Eric Jay Toll for The Arizona Builder’s Exchange

The town too tough to die is trying to keep its lawsuit from burial on Boot Hill. Shot down by the Federal Court, Tombstone is appealing the decision prohibiting its water system repair – or expansion, depending on which side of the dispute is being read – its inside a designated federal wilderness area.

The Goldwater Institute, representing the city, want an order giving municipal workers the right to bring heavy equipment into the wilderness area of the Huachuca Mountains to do the work. Tombstone claims the town will burn to the ground in a fire without the water supply.

So far, though, the city’s argument has been outdrawn and shot full of holes.

In the first round, a federal trial judge found no evidence of any immediate need to short-circuit the normal legal review. The town’s reply, a petition to have the U.S. Supreme Court intervene on an emergency basis, was blasted by two justices.

Damage from 2011’s Monument Fire—which burned through the mountains outside Sierra Vista where the springs are located—more or less destroyed the city’s historic water supply. The fire damage would be fixed, but winter rains caused flooding and mudslides which destroyed pipes and collection basins.

With a gubernatorial-declared state-of-emergency and supporting funds, federal officials allowed equipment into the wilderness to effect repairs to two springs. It was what Tombstone wanted to do next that created the standoff.

The city claims rights to restore 23 remaining springs. Federal officials remain adamant it does not have that right. The city’s position rounded up by the Goldwater Institute is that they have the right to go into the wilderness with mechanized equipment to do the job. Federal officials say they can, with hand tools only.

The federal government, however, said none of that grants the city unfettered right of access. So far, the government questions whether the city is repairing the springs or enlarging and upgrading the water sources. The city’s application is unclear on its proposed scope of work.

The case is Tombstone vs. United States 12-16172.