I’m CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof.   When I was seven years old my parents bought a house that was about a twenty minute drive from Niagara Falls.   That house was also about two miles from the Niagara River.   Water was a big part of my life when I was a kid.   When I was a very small child we lived in a house that had no water meter.    Everyone paid a flat fee and you used as much water as you liked.    If you forgot to turn off the garden hose and left the water running all night that was no problem. Sometimes on a hot summer afternoon my mother would try to cool it off by hosing down the driveway and even washing the sidewalk in front of the house.  In the spring  piles of snow would melt and our basement would be flooded with water that leaked through the walls.   Some people bought a device called a sump pump to get water out of their basements.     If water was ever a problem it was because there was too much of it.  The city water came from Lake Erie which was over 200 miles long.   Nobody was ever going to drain Lake Erie no matter how much water they wasted.

What a contrast between Western New York State and Southern Arizona where I live today!  Most of Cochise County gets slightly over a foot of precipitation in a typical year and nearly all the water we consume comes from wells that are close to a thousand feet under the surface.   The water got there over a thousand years ago and it isn’t being replenished.    But you’d never know that judging by what real estate developers are proposing.    From the number of houses that they are asking to build, you’d think that Benson and Sierra Vista were on the shore of Lake Superior.    And you’d think that the San Pedro River had the same flow as the Niagara.

Many years ago, at the urging of scientists, Arizona officials and federal officials enacted regulations designed to make sure that our water supplies aren’t  so taxed that our supplies run dry. Other regulations  attempt to protect native plants and animals from being killed off because they also deserve to live.

Real estate developers are business people who are interested in maximizing their profits.   The more houses they build the more money they rake in.   They build their houses and move on to their next development.   It’s no sweat off their backs if there will be no water for the new residents in another twenty years.   And they don’t care if wells run dry on land adjacent to their projects. Moreover they have no interest in wildlife.    If left to their devices real estate developers would just build and build and build.   To hell with regulations.

Many developers are extremely wealthy and they make big contributions to political campaigns, effectively bribing public officials to bend or break the water regulations.

Luckily we have a few public spirited people who care about the environment and they are willing to stand up and be counted. One of them is a Sierra Vista resident named Tricia Gerrodette. Tricia stands to make nothing by insisting that water regulations are followed and that the ecology be protected.    Her only motive is the satisfaction that due in part to her efforts future generations will have the quality of life that she’s enjoyed. Accordingly Tricia has been active in various groups that recognize that we live in the desert and that the environment needs to be protected.    That includes excessive real estate developments such as the proposed Villages of Vigneto whose plans call for building 28,000 houses and four golf courses along both sides of Highway 90 in Benson.   Tricia Gerrodette has frequently shown up at Benson City Council meetings mostly to update the council on developments that ought to interest Benson’s community leaders.   Her medium has been the call to the public, a council meeting feature which allows anyone to address the council for a maximum of five minutes.

At the end of the July 22nd council meeting Tricia signed up to speak to the council but Vice Mayor Joe Konrad made a motion to adjourn the meeting and the only possible reason was to prevent her from speaking for five minutes maximum.   Here it should be pointed out that the entire Benson City Council including the mayor are big supporters of Vigneto and they don’t want to hear anything unpleasant about the development such as what 28,000 new houses might do to the ecology including the San Pedro River. Tricia complained to the Arizona Attorney General’s office that she’d been deprived of her rights and the attorney general’s office agreed.    Mayor Toney King’s reaction was to do away with the call to the public so that nobody could speak about any subject whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Vigneto supporter George Scott submitted an opinion piece that was printed in the October ninth issue of the Benson newspaper.   Scott accuses Tricia of browbeating and bullying the city council.   Bullying by speaking for five minutes at a time and telling the council things they would rather not hear?

Almost since El Dorado Benson was formed I have expressed the opinion that Vigneto is a hoax and that the development will never see the light of day.    I think that our mayor and council are a collection of naive fools who are gambling Benson’s future on one basket that will never bear fruit.    Environmentalists are not the problem.   All they ask is that our public officials recognize that we live in a desert that is nearly 2,000  miles from Niagara Falls.

I’m CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof and the opinions you’ve just heard are mine and not necessarily anyone else’s.   If you’d like a copy of this editorial or you’d like to express your opinion go to the CAVE web site and select Editorials.  Then select Vigneto.   At the conclusion of this script you’ll find a letter from the Arizona Attorney General’s office and Tricia Gerrodette’s response to George Scott..   We’re at CAVEFM.com.   That’s CAVEFM.com

Click Here to view AG Letter


Tricia Gerrodette's Response to George Scott 

George Scott’s Commentary in last week’s Benson Sun-News, while purporting to clear some things up, instead added more confusion. He conflated the council’s right to NOT have a Call to the Public on a meeting agenda with the council’s violation of my open speech rights when they DID have a Call to the Public on their July 22, 2019 agenda. You can listen to the audio of the council meeting for yourself. You only need to listen to the last 2 minutes to hear the council adjourning without allowing me to speak.

I’m equally bemused and proud that I’m so scary to the Benson city council that they have removed Call to the Public on the meeting agenda so that they don’t have to face me. For those who don’t know me, I stand 5 feet tall and I’m 69 years old. Not what usually comes to mind for someone intimidating. Or in the words of George Scott, I “browbeat and bullied” the city council into feeling they had to remove Call to the Public from the agenda to escape my words. In doing so, however, the council is denying all members of the public the chance to speak to the council

I’m perfectly willing to sit down and talk with council members, as suggested by George Scott in last week’s commentary, but how would that happen? In an open meeting or work session, which is the only appropriate way to “sit down with Council members”?

The Office of the Arizona Attorney General, in response to a complaint I filed, has decided that the Benson city council did indeed violate the Open Meeting Law of Arizona at their July 22 meeting. To resolve the matter, the AG’s “Office requires that the Council acknowledge this letter’s conclusion at a duly noticed Council meeting”.

Benson’s solution? To put the acknowledgment on the consent agenda, so there will be no direct public mention of the AG’s letter. And the packet for council, which is also available to the public, does not contain the text of the AG’s letter. Would you like to know what it says?

George Scott then goes on to name me as “anti-growth, anti-progress”. I don’t think George and I have ever had a meaningful conversation, so he may be unaware of my deeply held concerns for the environment and for following the law (see my Open Meeting Law complaint). He is ascribing views to me without any basis for doing so. Lawsuits are not filed frivolously, despite what some people believe, and they are filed when people think laws are being broken. Then a judge makes a decision about the merits of the case. That is how our system works.

I love the San Pedro River and the life it supports. I will continue to work for its protection however I can. And that would include sitting down with Benson city council members or Vigneto representatives, anytime they are willing.