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Another Tombstone showdown: The town vs. the federal government

Photo of Caroline May
Caroline May
Political Reporter

Wyatt Earp might be long gone, but there is another showdown underway in Tombstone, Ariz. — this time between the town and the federal government.

The “Town Too Tough to Die” is currently having to rely on two ground wells (one of which has been compromised by arsenic) to meet the water needs of its 1,500 residents and more than 400,000 annual visitors because the federal government will not allow the town to repair the waterlines damaged and destroyed during the 2011 Monument Fire.

George Barnes, Tombstone’s city clerk and manager, explained to The Daily Caller that since many of the pipelines are in a “wilderness area,” the U.S. Forest Service will not allow the mechanized equipment needed to fix the waterlines into the area for environmental reasons.

“We began working with the Forest Service but then we realized and found what an incredible boondoggle that could be, even though we are very confident we have a special status because our rights there pre-existed the Forest Service and even the BLM [Bureau of Land Management]. We were there long before anything and all we are asking is to fix our stuff,” Barnes said.

In the wake of the Monument Fire, in August 2011, Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer declared a state of emergency for Tombstone and authorized $50,000 to help cover the cost of repairing the water system.

“Tombstone draws 50 to 80 percent of its water supply from springs in the Monument Fire burn area,” the governor’s office said. “Erosion and debris flow caused by summer storms damaged the city’s aqueduct and water transmission system.”

The town is still starved for water.

Early in 2012 the city initiated litigation against the Forest Service in order to gain access to the waterlines. In mid-February, the non-profit, Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute took lead council.

“The Tombstone case is the ultimate showdown between state sovereignty and federal overreach,” Nick Dranias, a member of the Goldwater legal team told TheDC. “The reason why I say that is the case involves the federal government, through the Forest Service, threatening the very existence of the historic city of Tombstone and threatening the literal health and safety of its residents and tourists.”

According to Barnes, the city is especially worried about the prospect of fires, as there are concerns about not having enough water to extinguish building fires in the historic town.

“We have two days supply — that doesn’t allow for a building fire, a well-pump failure; it doesn’t allow for much of anything. We’ve been walking on egg-shells for six months,” he said.