On Friday and Saturday an unprecedented event was held in Tombstone. With the approach of the monsoon season, a number of temporary emergency repairs to the mountain spring lines were in danger of being washed away. If this should happen, the current low flow of water would be reduced by at least 50% throwing the city into yet another water emergency.
The problem we faced was the restriction on the use of excavating equipment by the Forest Service forcing us to use shovels and hand tools for the repairs. A group of local residents sought advice from shovel brigades in neighboring states. These are independent groups of volunteers using the shovel as their symbol in fighting federal infringement on property rights. A group of Tombstone Residents formed a similar group here as a not for profit corporation whose sole purpose is to assist the city of Tombstone in getting our story out, providing volunteer labor for making repairs and funding repairs and related litigation.
For weeks hundreds of shovels flooded into the city from all over the country along with donations for the shovel brigade, and in turn the city. The shovels, while largely symbolic, brought national attention to the cityís dispute with the Forest Service. This attention resulted in intense pressure on the Forest Service by Congressional Staff and a number of highly placed officials. Fortunately Kevin Rudd, the city project manager, had been working a plan along with Forest Service representatives which would allow the protective measures within the current restricted forest rules. This plan resulted in the city being issued a Forest Service permit on Thursday to bring in Tombstone shovel brigade volunteers to help get this critical job done.
On Friday and Saturday volunteers from several states came to Tombstone to assist the city and local volunteers in making these critically needed repairs. They carried hand tools and other permitted equipment into the forest. It was indeed a difficult trek. Workers drove some thirty miles to the Miller Canyon rest area. From there they were shuttled to the trail head. Then came a grueling two mile hike over difficult terrain just to get to the work site.
Once there the work really began. It included moving earth by hand, re-routing the water line to safer locations and diverting portions of the anticipated storm flow. It took many hours, over two days, in hot temperatures at 7000 foot altitude followed by the long walk out of the canyon. Prior planning and a good supply of donated water enabled the crews to achieve their goals safely and without incident.
On the same Friday, City Archivist Nancy Sosa was in Washington DC at the request of the House Committee on Natural Resources speaking on behalf of H.R. 5791 The Emergency Water Supply Restoration Act. This bill would provide special exemption for communities to repair damaged water systems in wilderness areas. I might add, she paid for all expenses herself. The event was televised live on C-Span and it was a good thing she was there. The Forest Service deputy director reported to the committee that the city had been given a permit to make repairs and do maintenance through 2013 which was completely inaccurate. The Committee Chairman allowed Ms. Sosa to respond. All we had was a two day permit to go in on foot and work with hand tools. The hearing did not go well for the Forest Service.
At the end of the day, Saturday, an exhausted crew made their way down the mountain secure in the knowledge that they had indeed made a difference. Gardner spring is about as safe as we can make it without heavy machinery. Hopefully it will survive the monsoon rains. The nation watched the effort through the eyes, ears and pens of CNN Television, CNN.com, CBS Television, the New York Times, a bevy of Arizona media and independent journalists.
I donít know how to thank all those that helped. Kevin Rudd and Sherry Kammeyer achieved in those two days what would have required more than two months and thousands of dollars of salary if we were to do it without volunteers. Additionally Tombstone had received more free press coverage than it ever had in a two day period. To the Shovel Brigade folks you are astounding. Our visiting helpers came expecting only to give, and give they did. Our residents literally moved the earth to help secure your water supply. It restores our faith in each other. You all have a place in our hearts forever. <;> The City of Tombstone has become ground zero in the fight with the federal government over land and water rights. I hope that we can live up to the awesome responsibilities of that role.