In today’s Star business section is an article about how the Greater Vail Chamber of Commerce decided recently not to take sides in the continuing fracas over the proposed Rosemont Mine.
At about the same tine the chamber made that decision, it also decided to expel one of the leading mine opposition groups from its membership.
In a letter, chamber president Greg Durnan told Empire Fagan Coalition president Elizabeth Webb that its board had decided to cancel the coalition’s membership, effective immediately, without the chance to reapply. Durnan’s letter did not specify exactly what Webb or anyone else in the coalition had done to warrant expulsion. Durnan declined to explain the board’s actions beyond the letter that he sent to Webb.
What is clear, however, is that this action comes on top of an already divisive debate among Vail chamber members about the mine, which would take 220 million pounds of copper annually from private land in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson.
The endorsement was sought by Rosemont Copper, a chamber member, but the chamber’s board decided March 7 not to take a stand in part because it was concerned that chamber members could lose business from opponents if it supported the mine, and in part because it wanted to support all of its members. The opposition group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas is also a chamber member.
In his missive to Webb, Durnan linked the chamber’s expulsion decision to what he called “unprofessional and unacceptable actions” of those representing the coalition at a chamber mixer, held Feb. 24, at the office of Nils Krausser of State Farm Insurance. Krausser, a chamber member, is the insurance agent for Webb and her family.
“While the behavior exhibited likely intended to further voice concern about their primary cause, it was in fact, disrespectful and not supportive of a positive business environment at a Chamber event,” Durnan wrote Webb.
From now on, the chamber also prohibits any participation at future chamber events “by persons representing the Empire-Fagan coalition or Elizabeth Webb,” Durnan wrote.
“It is unfortunate that these actions are necessary but the primary purpose of any Chamber of Commerce is to support a positive business environment and promote economic growth within its area,” Durnan wrote.
Durnan’s letter didn’t explain what the “unprofessional and unacceptable actions” were. He declined in an interview to elaborate, saying it is his understanding that Webb is considering litigation against the chamber. Webb, who said she got Durnan’s letter March 7, denied that she’s planning to sue the chamber and said she had no idea what she might have done to provoke this.
She said that when she spoke at the Feb. 24 meeting, she said that she felt it would be better for the chamber to remain neutral and “not pit one business against each other.” On a personal level, she said, she told the group that she would not be able to keep doing business with her insurance agent if the board endorsed the Rosemont project.
“When a parent organization like the chamber board endorses, it implies that the entire organization endorses something. Here’s the thing for me. I can’t have ethics, principles and morals outside the community and then throw those principles in the garbage can because it’s uncomfortable inside my own community. It’s easy to have principles when you don’t have to look your neighbors in the eyes.”
Krausser declined to comment on this matter.
The Empire-Fagan coalition is a non-profit, state-incorporated group that promotes conservation and public education. Representing at least 200 residents of the Empire-Fagan Valley, the group has opposed the Rosemont Mine from the start. The valley stretches from Houghton Road on the west to the Empire Mountains on the east and from Hilton Ranch Road on the south to Interstate 10 on the north.
Pete Inks, a chamber member who supports the mine, said he heard Webb say at the Feb. 24 mixer that there would also be consequences for chamber members if the board endorsed the Rosemont Mine.
Webb denied saying that, adding that she never asked the chamber board to oppose Rosemont Copper. She said she thought it was “wonderful” that the chamber board decided not to take sides.