Like it or not, Cochise County is on the front page of national news for environmental issues lately.
The 9th Court of Appeals rejected an effort to fund construction of a wall along the U.S. and Mexico International border on Wednesday, which was celebrated by local environmentalists as a “win for wildlife.”
Thursday news broke that a representative of Villages of Vigneto met with David Bernhardt, now the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, to ask that decisions on environmental permits for the project be decided by facts. Local environmentalists are watching this story closely, hoping a probe by U.S. Rep. Raul Gijalva will delay or condemn the 28,000-home development.
Politics will decide the outcome of both issues.
We anticipate the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether President Donald Trump has the authority to issue an executive order declaring a national emergency and change the federal budget. His decision to allocate $2.5 billion to wall construction, pulling the money from the defense budget, will be the focus of the Supreme Court, not whether building the wall will have an environmental consequence.
Similar “non-environmental” factors could likely decide the future of the long-awaited Villages project. With the 2020 presidential election 17 short months away, opponents of President Trump are anxious to “prove” that the administration will ruin landscapes to benefit businesses and rich developers. The connection between Mike Ingram, CEO of Phoenix-based El Dorado Holdings – the developer of Villages – and U.S. Sec. Bernhardt represents exactly the circumstantial evidence needed to promote a storyline that hurts the president’s reelection and favors U.S. Rep. Gijalva and fellow members of his party.
Although representatives of the development have said publicly they plan to build on their almost 13,000-acre property in Benson with or without federal approval, it’s doubtful. Discussion and debate about the 28,000-home development has been familiar in our community for almost a decade, with City of Benson and Cochise County officials heartily endorsing the project.
If nothing happens at the property or a federal probe further delays the permitting process, forecasts for the future of Benson and Cochise County will change significantly. The “loss” of a major development project fueling local economies for years to come would have a major impact in the region.