Arizona Legislature Rejects Bill on Tombstone Water Repairs

Arizona District 16 Representative, Kelly Townsend, introduced House Bill 2541.
Arizona District 16 Representative, Kelly Townsend, introduced House Bill 2541.

The Arizona House of Representatives rejected a bill that would have allowed Tombstone to bring heavy equipment onto federal lands to repair water lines in the Huachuca Mountains.

The House voted 27-28 last week against HB 2541, which provided that in a state of emergency, Arizona towns, cities and counties could access federal land with equipment necessary to repair or address an emergency situation.

Gov. Jan Brewer declared a state of emergency for Tombstone after the 2011 Monument Fire and subsequent monsoon rains buried the town’s primary waterlines under 12 feet of debris and mud.

The federal government has blocked Tombstone from bringing heavy equipment onto the federal land to repair the pipelines.

State Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Republican representing District 16 who introduced the bill, said that if it were passed, HB 2541 would most likely end up in the court system. The bill challenges the jurisdiction of what rights Arizona has over federally owned lands in a state of emergency.

Last time Tombstone took this case through the courts, the Supreme Court ruled that the town did not have the right to repair the water lines with mechanized equipment. The Supreme Court cited the Wilderness Act, which restricted access from mechanized equipment in protected areas, even though Tombstone’s rights to the pipeline predated this act by 80 years.The state law would have gotten around that federal provision.

In addition to mud and debris, the water lines are buried beneath boulders the size of small cars and uprooted trees that resulted from landslides. Without the pipelines, Tombstone’s water supply is hampered, creating what Mayor Stephen Schmidt described as an emergency water situation.

“You have to have water for fire protection. The historic district has many common walls so one fire could wipe out the entire district, which would wipe out the city’s revenue from sales tax,” he said.

Townsend said she will bring the bill back for reconsideration next week.

“Between the issue of drinking arsenic and running a wheelbarrow over some plants, I think that our people should take precedence,” she said. “This is our state and if we have an emergency and the people of our state are suffering because of it, we need to address the problem. We need to be good stewards of our citizens.”

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