A chamber of commerce whose sphere of influence includes nearly half the proposed Rosemont Mine site is staying out of the controversy over whether the mine should be built.
The board of the Greater Vail Area Chamber of Commerce, whose 100 members include Rosemont Copper and its leading adversary group, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, agreed 6-0 not to endorse or oppose the mine.
The decision followed lobbying of the chamber by Rosemont Copper officials and their opponents. Both sides took heart in the decision and treated it as a victory for their views.
But the vote this month followed a debate that turned bitter at times, since feelings about the mine have run high in the Vail area on Tucson's far southeast side, which straddles Interstate 10 and drops down to Corona de Tucson.
"It's such an explosive type thing here. You are either for it or against it," said Mary Ann Cleveland, a Vail Realtor and chamber member who opposes the mine. "I don't think there are too many middle people."
Chamber president Greg Durnan said that after getting a request for an endorsement from Rosemont Copper last August, the board toured the proposed mine site. It also heard detailed presentations by Rosemont Copper and Save the Scenic Santa Ritas.
In February, the board asked chamber members for their views. It got 15 letters in favor of an endorsement and 14 opposed.
Of those opposed, however, most said they actually favored the mine but were afraid that if the mine were endorsed, they would lose business from opponents through boycotts, Durnan said. He would not release the letters to the Star, citing privacy issues.
"We decided there was no way we could give an endorsement if we could lose business," Durnan said. "We certainly don't need that."
The Vail chamber's members come from Sahuarita, Tucson and other places besides the immediate Vail area. But the chamber considers its turf the entire 425-square-mile Vail School District, whose boundaries dip south to take in about 45 percent of the Rosemont mine site's private land.
Rod Pace, Rosemont Copper's president and CEO, saw the chamber's stance as a sign of support for the mine.
"We are a member of the chamber and they do support us," Pace said, adding, "I think it shows the Vail area is not opposed to the mine. They look at it as a business opportunity."
But given all the promotional letters, fliers and radio ads that Rosemont Copper produced, "I guess our reaction is basically positive" to the chamber's vote, said Morris Farr, vice president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas.
"It shows that the mine hasn't taken with the business community in Vail," Farr said.
Chamber member and Rosemont supporter Pete Inks said he was not happy with the board decision.
"We are out here in Vail and we are carrying a very, very heavy property tax burden," said Inks.
"We need a better tax base, which the mine would provide. The mine, providing extra jobs, additional family income and helping me as a taxpayer - it would be a godsend," he said.
Cleveland sees it differently. "The profits are going to go to a firm from an outside country," she said, referring to Rosemont Copper's parent company, Vancouver, B.C.-based Augusta Resource Corp.
"The possibility of environmental problems will rest with our community," she added.
DID YOU KNOW
The proposed Rosemont open-pit mine would extract 220 million pounds of copper a year and employ 400 people on private and public land in the Santa Rita Mountains, about 30 miles southeast of Tucson.
Augusta Resource Corp., parent company for Rosemont Copper, hopes to start mine operations in 2012.
The U.S. Forest Service plans to release its draft environmental impact statement on Rosemont this year.
Contact reporter Tony Davis at email@example.com or 806-7746.