By Emily Bregel for Arizona Daily Star
A kerfuffle erupted last week between Benson city leaders and the state parks department over how a massive development proposed in the tiny Cochise County town could affect one of the county’s biggest tourist draws, Kartchner Caverns State Park.
Following a furious letter from Benson’s City Manager to Gov. Doug Ducey — who appoints the director of the Arizona State Parks — a parks official initially backed away from the agency’s demands for assurance that the Villages at Vigneto won’t harm the caverns’ fragile ecosystem.
Jim Keegan, deputy director of Arizona State Parks, said in an interview that the city has already addressed the agency’s concerns — including Kartchner’s water levels, water quality and traffic patterns — aired last week at a public hearing.
“The vast majority of it has all been cleared up,” he said.
But Arizona State Parks director Sue Black said Friday that the parks department is still negotiating with developer El Dorado Holdings and Benson city leaders over protections for the caverns.
“It’s a work in progress right now,” she said. “I’m just pleased there’s collaboration and cooperation.”
The proposed master planned community could bring 28,000 homes and 70,000 people to Benson. Opponents worry the project’s groundwater pumping could harm precarious ecosystems in and around the federally protected San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.
Environmentalists say too much is still unknown about Vigneto’s potential impact on Kartchner for all water concerns to have been addressed.
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