Tombstone was the
site of the “Showdown at the OK Corral.” It was
a silver mining boomtown and very Wild West:
over a dozen saloons, 6 gambling halls, a very
cosmopolitan city. Today Tombstone is a cultural
attraction with 1500 residents and tens of
thousands of visitors.
But now the U.S.
Forest Service is building a tomb for Tombstone.
A massive forest fire in 2011 wiped out the
vegetation in Coronado National Park, wherein
lies Tombstone’s waterworks — which were
destroyed by the following torrential rains.
“I sat on the
road in my car and watched the fire,”
Nancy Sosa, Tombstone native, its archivist,
mother of five. “My kids and I were between
Tombstone and Sierra Vista, about 26 miles away
from the fire, watching in shock. You don’t grow
up in Tombstone not knowing where your water
comes from. Water is the most precious thing in
monsoon damage was severe but readily fixable.
Except that Tombstone’s water sources are
surrounded by a designated wilderness area.
Their water was privately owned and therefore
exempted by President Teddy Roosevelt from
national forest status … and, thus, exempted
from the Wilderness Act. That Act applies only
to national forest, not private property. And
yet, the U.S. Forest service takes the position
that Tombstone needs its permission to bring in
tractors and bulldozers to clear the rubble
throttling its water supplies.
survive long on the tiny wells located in town
or on the small amount of water it temporarily
was able to hand patch through its water main.
It needs to use regular earth-moving equipment
to repair its lines. As Sosa explains, “you have
boulders the size of motorcycles breaking your
pipeline, and other boulders and uprooted trees
mangling it… the water is buried by 6 to 15 feet
of boulders, trees, rocks.”
Coronado is not
an exceptionally delicate ecology. Fire and
monsoons have had far more impact than would a
few tractors and bulldozers. And yet, the Forest
Service forbids Tombstone to bring in crews with
Soon after the
fire Sosa and City Clerk Manager George Barnes
asked the Forest Service what, if anything, was
required to bring in a crew with mechanized
equipment. A Forest Service representative
emailed her back the next day that they had to
look into the ownership as to what the city was
the springs outright and has a clear easement
for its water pipe. Its ownership is a public
record. It can be looked up in minutes, not
months. But the Forest Service took three months
(reminded almost daily by Ms. Sosa and Mr.
Barnes) to respond.
reply? According to Sosa, the Forest Service
took the position that Tombstone didn’t own
anything and therefore the Service would
not permit it to bring in equipment. “ Didn’t
own anything” anticipates “You didn’t
build that” in its contempt for private
(and faces) a risk of burning to the ground and
has good reason to believe that the Wilderness
Act does not apply to its property. So its Mayor
took a crew with earth-moving machinery into the
mountains. The Forest Service’s rangers met them
there, stopped them, and told them that they’d
better “lawyer up and call President Obama.”
Soon after, Mayor Jack Henderson, City Clerk
Manager George Barnes, Sosa, and the work crew
met with the Service. The Service had copies of
all of Tombstone’s deeds and documentation but
gave the officials a polite runaround.
What was the
government’s reasoning for refusal to
accommodate the lawful claims of the citizens of
Tombstone? According to a
New York Times
, “Jim M. Upchurch, the forest supervisor at
Coronado, issued a split decision: bulldozers
and tractors would be allowed in the lowest of
the damaged areas to move truck-size boulders
that had crashed onto the pipe, but they could
not be used elsewhere. ‘We think there are other
options to protecting your water source without
being so disruptive on the environment,’ Mr.
Upchurch said as he hiked Miller Canyon, where
the repairs were under way.”
Translation: Let Tombstone burn.
Tombstone is represented in litigation
by the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton
Center for Constitutional Litigation
which is seeking to protect “states and
their subdivisions from federal
regulations that prevent them from using
and enjoying their property in order to
fulfill the essential functions of
protecting public health and safety.”
Goldwater’s Nick Dranias told the
New York Times: “’We’re not asking
to build a superhighway, or to cut a
path where there has never been a path….
We just want to be left alone to repair
and restore fully the water system that
Tombstone is entitled to maintain.’”
Service’s motto is “Caring for the Land and
Serving People.” Its own Guiding Principles
We are good
neighbors who respect private property
for quality and excellence in everything we
do and are sensitive to the effects of our
decisions on people and resources.
to meet the needs of our customers in fair,
friendly, and open ways.
principles. Forest Service Chief Thomas L.
Tidwell, and Associate Chief Mary Wagner, really
shouldn’t let their motto become “Caring for the
Land, the People be Damned.” To condemn
Tombstone to the flames because “We think there
are other options to protecting your water
source” smacks as arbitrary, capricious, and by
no means neighborly. It’s peculiar that these
“options” go unspecified.
on June 29
after viewing wildfire damage, made a typically
inspirational call-out: “We’ve got to make
sure that we have each other’s backs. And that
spirit is what you’re seeing in terms of
volunteers, in terms of firefighters, in terms
of government officials. Everybody is pulling
together to try to deal with this situation.”
Oh really? Obama
could get the Forest Service to permit Tombstone
to fix its waterworks with one phone call. If he
doesn’t make that call his claim that “We’ve got
to make sure that we have each other’s backs”
shows as a pious fraud. And if Tombstone burns
to the ground (which happened twice before the
water line was installed) the president may be
seen as a modern Nero who fiddled while
Tombstone burned. The left paints
Mitt Romney as out of touch for the occasional
harmless gaffe. But if
lets the Forest Service arbitrarily, perhaps
even illegally, refuse to allow Tombstone to
rebuild its water lines, Obama just might end up
reading, by firelight, his own political
tombstone: Barack Obama, Out of Touch.