By Ralph Benko
Welcome to the Wild West, 2012 style. The Feds to Tombstone: “If you want to fix your water line, better lawyer up and talk to President Obama.”
The left is attacking Mitt Romney as “out of touch.” But the left’s own champion, President Obama, is truly the out of touch candidate. The U.S. Forest Service — of which the president is ultimate boss — is preventing, on the flimsiest of excuses, Tombstone Arizona from rebuilding its water pipeline. Obama, conniving, is putting Tombstone, a fixture of American history, in mortal danger.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,” recalls 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 the desert.”
The ensuing 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.
Tombstone cannot 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 earth-moving machinery.
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 entitled to.
Tombstone owns 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.The eventual 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 property.
Tombstone faced (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 report , “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.’”
The Forest Service’s motto is “Caring for the Land and Serving People.” Its own Guiding Principles include:We are good neighbors who respect private property rights.
We strive for quality and excellence in everything we do and are sensitive to the effects of our decisions on people and resources. We strive to meet the needs of our customers in fair, friendly, and open ways. High-sounding 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.
President Obama, on June 29th, in Colorado Springs 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 Barack Obama 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.