Belmont Club

Whistle Me Up a Memory

Disaster strikes in Tombstone. A town’s water supply is cut off. The town fathers rush out to fix it, but the Federal government says no can do. No repairs unless they are effected using only 19th century tools. “There’s a popular saying in the American West: Whiskey’s for drinking, but water’s for fighting over. This dusty little city, made famous by the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, has a dilly of a water fight on its hands.”

Tombstone’s water line was damaged in last year’s massive Monument fire. The city says the feds are blocking emergency repairs that are critical to its survival.

In court papers, lawyers for the federal government say there’s no emergency. Instead, they contend, Tombstone is using the fire’s aftermath as an excuse to “upgrade and improve” its water system.

Kathleen Nelson, the acting ranger in charge of the Coronado National Forest, says the Forest Service has been letting Tombstone do some work, as long as it complies with the 1964 Wilderness Act.

In the wilderness, Tombstone can dig with shovels, not bulldozers. The new pipe can come up the mountain on horses, not in trucks.

Maybe the town should communicate with the Forest Service using the telegraph and the pony express as well. But that is hardly like to amuse the Federal bureaucracy, which prefers the high-tech. Recently lawmakers asked EPA Director Lisa Jackson why drones were flying surveillance over livestock operations in Nebraska.

The Environmental Protection Agency uses aerial surveillance across a swath of the Midwest know as Section 7 – which includes Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri — and has defended the practice as cost-efficient.

Cost efficient, yes. But what are they doing? One agency, in addition to the EPA, already operates surveillance assets over the United States. “The Department of Homeland Security is the only federal agency to discuss openly its use of drones in domestic airspace.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the department, operates nine drones, variants of the CIA’s feared Predator. The aircraft, which are flown remotely by a team of 80 fully qualified pilots, are used principally for border and counternarcotics surveillance under four long-term FAA certificates.

Officials say they can be used on a short-term basis for a variety of other public-safety and emergency-management missions if a separate certificate is issued for that mission.

Like many other issues the question of whether water lines can be repaired or cows watched from the air is less about the putative subject of regulation than it is about power. Recently a court rejected claims by Tombstone that it was entitled to repair its water system without reference to the Forest Service.

A federal judge rejected a conservative group’s claim that the historic town of Tombstone faces a water crises because the U.S. Forest Service refuses to allow crews access to a wilderness area to repair springs damaged by wildfire and mudslides.

U.S. District Judge Frank Zapata this week denied the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute’s motion for a preliminary injunction. The group, which is representing the City of Tombstone against the Forest Service, immediately filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit. …

“Upon review of the record, the court finds that plaintiff has not demonstrated irreparable harm,” Zapata wrote. “Likewise, the court also finds that plaintiff cutting a path through a federally protected wilderness area with excavators and other construction equipment would have a significant impact; the public interest and equities weigh in favor of defendants who are attempting to conserve and protect important wilderness areas.”

Goldwater Institute attorney Nicholas Dranias said in an interview that Zapata’s ruling is “replete with errors of law.” He said Zapata misinterpreted the group’s sovereign immunity arguments and other legal issues, and that he is confident the 9th Circuit will reverse.

Dranias said that Tombstone has given the agency all the information it needs to allow access, and that the Forest Service is stalling because it wants to control access to the springs and the water that they provide.

“The bottom line here is that this is about power — the power water gives you in an arid environment,” he said. “The federal government wants that power.”

“This is about power”. Perhaps one day it will be discovered that cows, trees, Big Gulf softdrinks, even the air people are merely useful as a battleground for this precious commodity. Everything else is incidental.

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