BENSON — As we leave behind 2019 and embark upon the New Year, El Dorado Holdings’ Villages at Vigneto, a proposed 28,000 home master planned community in Benson, is hands down the story of the year.
And with the start Wednesday of a new decade, the project, should it come to fruition, may very well be the story of the decade for the San Pedro Valley and the region.
A sure sign things could get seriously underway is the seemingly and rising measure of contentiousness that do doubt will reach peak form in the year ahead.
And it’s one issue that has the valley divided.
Proponents say Villages will infuse the local and regional economies with a much-needed boost while providing jobs and opportunities for what they say is a local and regional workforce that is starved for living wage jobs. It would also help stem the flow of young people who high tail it out of the area upon high school graduation, seeking the opportunities that are non existent locally, while helping to stem Cochise County’s population decline.
An economic impact study released in September 2015 predicted Vigneto would generate $23.8 billion in direct, indirect and induced economic output from spending and sales throughout Cochise County over an 18-year construction period.
The study also forecast $1.5 billion in tax revenues, including $300 million to Cochise County, in the same period.
More recently, economists talked about the economic impact.
“... 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 Robert Carreira of the then Center for Economic Research in a past interview.
Infrastructure construction was expected to begin in early 2016, but that was delayed while landowner — developer El Dorado Benson waited on various city approvals. Several businesses across Cochise County made plans to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the Vigneto project, which includes plans for dozens of retail, commercial and recreational amenities.
Those who oppose the development have been vocal with their concerns, namely the effects they say it would have on the aquifer and surrounding water table and the irreparable harm they say is sure to befall the San Pedro River and its fragile riparian ecosystem.
Lawsuits have been filed and refiled by a host of environmental groups, permits issued, rescinded and reissued.
Fueled by that opposition the formation and launch of what is the Southwestern Communities Coalition occurred in Benson this past Sept. 18. The coalition was formed in part to “...disprove the idea that private landowners and the government must always be at odds when it comes to wildlife and habitat protection.”
“[Seventy-eight] 78 percent of endangered species depend on private land for all or some of their habitat whereas only 50 percent of endangered species depend on federal land.” That’s how SWWC’s Seasholes summed it up during the group’s unveiling in September.
“Congress must work with, not against, those private landowners to come up with the best solutions to protect endangered species,” he said.
The coalition was formed as a line-in-the sand response to what it deems as “radical” environmental groups whose sole aim is to stop development, all of it, in its tracks.
The banter has been free flowing.
An ad published in the News-Sun decrying and questioning motives behind the SWCC formation drew a fiery rebuttal from Seasholes.
Benson Mayor Toney King, and much of the business community, are in favor of the potential for added jobs, commerce and “planned growth.”
El Dorado Holdings purchased the property in 2014.