Guest Commentary

Despite Rosemont Ranch's environmental appeal, the county should decline an offer to acquire it

Define it however you like: There's a lot of green flying around Pima County these days.

The county is cranking up implementation of the open-space bond package that voters overwhelmingly approved last year, slapping down millions here and millions there as it snaps up ranches and riparian zones alike.

Most of this activity has been greeted with savory satisfaction by conservationists, who worked long and hard to get the bonds passed. The county's reluctance on one particular parcel, however, has a few conservation folks green with envy. The County Conservation Acquisition Commission has been presented with an offer from Triangle Ventures LLC, a development group that counts Don Diamond's son-in-law, Yoram Levy, as one of its partners.

For the tidy sum of $11.5 million, Triangle will part with Rosemont Ranch, a scenic swath of rolling oak-dotted hills on the east flanks of the Santa Rita Mountains.

If Rosemont sounds familiar, that's because it became a political hot potato back in the '90s, when Asarco mining company tried to engineer a 13,000-acre land swap with the U.S. Forest Service so they could render the beautiful oaks into a smoking hole in the ground. Asarco's scheme was defused by a small but scrappy nonprofit named Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, along with a coalition of 40 other groups.

I was the campaign coordinator for that organization during that battle, so my initial reaction to the news was to join some of my former cohorts in the sentimental hope that this goliath might finally be put permanently to rest. Drive down Scenic Highway 83 towards Sonoita; stop at the turnout at the high point of the ride, and you'll see why everybody from wealthy Sonoita retirees and ranchers to Tucson Earth First!ers wanted it protected.

I still firmly believe Rosemont should be protected, so it pains me to say that the county should spurn the Triangle offer.

The problem is that the deal that's on the table now stinks like a smelted cow. Triangle purchased the land from Asarco less than a year ago for $4 million, and now seeks to nearly triple its money. Their real estate flack claimed Asarco let Rosemont go for a song because it needed the cash, to which Asarco's real estate flack tersely replied, "It was not a fire sale."

Nope, it sure wasn't. The real fire sale was more than 10 years ago, when Asarco acquired 2,200 of the 2,700 acres in the Rosemont parcel for $5 an acre, fleecing U.S. taxpayers in a perfectly legal scam that dates all the way back to the Mining Act of 1872. During the campaign, we Santa Rita-savers had enough doubts about the profitability of a mine there to warn that even if Asarco didn't nuke it for copper, they could eventually turn it over for development at an exponential profit. Consider it done.

Now along comes Triangle, sniffing around the county's spanking-new pile of bond money and brandishing the convenient claim that they have received a $12 million offer on Rosemont from another mining company. But hey, out of the goodness of their hearts, they're willing to let it go for 11 1/2. As Mr. Levy put it, "I'm just trying to do something good for the community." Bullshit.

Let's forget for a minute that nobody's ever heard of this "mining company," Augusta Capital Corporation. And let's put aside the fanciful notion that a developer like Levy would have anything but his own bottom line in mind. (Don Diamond claims to have nothing to do with this deal, but his legacy of conniving manipulation is all over it.) And hey, let's even pretend that copper prices really are as high as they appear to be, despite the now-forgotten history of the commodities-trading scam that artificially jacked them up 10 years ago and precipitated the Rosemont battle in the first place.

Forget all that, if you can, and ask yourself: Is this purchase really a good idea?

I see it lining the pockets of yet another developer with good green money. I see it driving up the price of other conservation parcels the county could buy. I see a dangerous precedent of monkeying with a voter-approved bond package. And I see plenty of other higher priority uses for that bond money.

The feds should have dealt with the Rosemont situation a long time ago. The Coronado National Forest is working on a new management plan. It should earmark Rosemont as suitable for acquisition and get busy acquiring it at a more-realistic price.

As for Levy's supposedly altruistic deal, I don't buy it, and neither should the county.

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