With news of reinstatement of the Section 404 Clean Water Act permit for the planned Villages at Vigneto in Benson, proponents of the master planned community are pleased by the latest development.

Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that endangered species like the yellow-billed cuckoo and Southwestern willow flycatcher would not be detrimentally impacted, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reinstated the 404 permit last week.

Mired in delays, the 12,167-acre, 28,000 home master-planned community projected over a 20-year build out, would infuse a stagnant and anemic county economy, experts say.

“If the development moves forward, it naturally has the potential to completely change not just the Benson economy but the Cochise County economy overall,” said Robert Carreira, of the newly launched Cochise Economic Research Center. Carreira had directed the Center for Economic Research at Cochise College.

But much of that depends upon what pace development would proceed when and if it comes to that point, he explained. He also noted with a development project of this magnitude there could be additional obstacles.

But the economic impact would be substantial, he said.

“... The annual impact (direct, indirect, and induced) could rival that of Fort Huachuca, sustained over a couple decades. It has the potential to transform Cochise into the fastest-growing county in Arizona and one of the fastest in the United States. That’s based on projections by the developer; there’s no way to tell how close the true picture will come to that until construction is underway and we can compare projections to reality,” said Carreira. “Reinstatement of the 404 permit naturally moves the project closer to forward, but I expect for a development this size there may be other hurdles encountered.”

George Scott, who heads Benson based Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group, says the staggering region economy can use a much needed shot in the arm.

“Benson and Cochise County badly need the economic opportunity and well paying jobs that the The Villages would bring — to the tune of $23.8 billion in economic output over the project’s 18 year build out,” said Scott. “At its peak, the Villages would create 16,355 jobs, and once fully built would sustain 8,780 jobs, which according to University of Arizona data, would represent an almost 20 percent increase in the number of jobs in Cochise County. That is truly astounding, especially for a county that is so economically distressed.”

Scott also pointed to a county poverty rate nearly 33 percent higher than the national average and a dwindling population base.

“... It is one of the fastest shrinking and most economically distressed counties in the entire country. I was born and raised in Cochise County, but sadly young adults these days are forced to move away to find jobs that can support them, especially if they want to raise families. This situation has got to change. The Villages at Vigneto will revive this county by providing jobs, economic development, and most importantly, a future so that young people can, like me, continue to call this place home. My family and I fully support the Villages at Vigneto project for Benson.”

The Benson/San Pedro Valley Chamber was equally pleased by the prospect.

“The chamber is encouraged by the reinstatement of the permit for the Vigneto project,” commented Chamber President Heather Floyd. “The possibilities for local businesses to partner with Vigneto to provide products and services would have a positive impact on our local economy. Vigneto has already developed strong relationships in our business community and I anticipate that will only grow as the project begins construction.”

But the contingent of environmental groups who at every turn have fought the development they say would significantly and negatively impact the aquifer and all but kill the San Pedro River and the abundance of wildlife reliant on the San Pedro River corridor, vow to continue to fight. The groups include EarthJustice, Cascabel Conservation Association, Tucson and Maricopa Audubon Societies, Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.

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