Friday, June 01, 2007

Renzi scam hurt AZ river to make big $ for partner

COCHISE COUNTY AZ -- In 2000, Jim Sandlin purchased 480 acres of undeveloped land in the Fort Huachuca/Sierra Vista area for $960,000. In 2005, he sold the land for $4.5 million.

In 2003, Mr. Sandlin’s land faced serious devaluation as the looming 2005 Base Realignment and Closure round threatened likely downsizing of the area’s economic engine, Fort Huachuca. Fort Huachuca downsizing had become increasingly inevitable as the area’s groundwater pumping deficit was growing and the Base was struggling to comply with legal responsibilities to protect the nearby San Pedro River.

But Mr. Sandlin’s business partner was Congressman Rick Renzi (R-AZ). In May 2003, Mr. Renzi introduced legislation exempting Fort Huachuca from its public-interest environmental responsibilities. The value of Mr. Sandlin’s investment would be preserved.

Neither Fort Huachuca nor the San Pedro River is located in Rep. Renzi’s district. Fort Huachuca is located in southeast Arizona. It is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center. The nearby San Pedro is the last surviving free-flowing desert river in the Southwest. The San Pedro River is threatened by groundwater pumping supporting local Department of Defense-funded activities.

Title company records and Cochise County Recorder’s Office records show that Mr. Sandlin purchased at least 480 acres of undeveloped farm land on February 25, 2000 in the Fort Huachuca/Sierra Vista area near the San Pedro River for $960,000. The records also show that Mr. Sandlin sold the same property on October 6, 2005 for $4.5 million.

Rep. Renzi’s proposed legislation easily passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives but met resistance in the Senate. Key Senators there recognized the legislation would kill the San Pedro. The Senators proposed rejecting Mr. Renzi’s legislation outright. Such a definitive move, however, would prove embarrassing to the politically vulnerable Renzi.

Senator McCain (R-AZ) ultimately orchestrated a compromise that became law. The compromise did not summarily exempt Fort Huachuca from its major legal mandate to protect the San Pedro as Rep. Renzi desired, but still reduced the Base’s short term legal burden enough to prevent its BRAC downsizing. The compromise increased jeopardy to the San Pedro River instead of overtly killing it.

BRAC 2005 ended without Fort Huachuca’s initially inevitable downsizing. Mr. Renzi’s legislative efforts forced removal of the Base’s acute risk. And Mr. Renzi’s business partner, Jim Sandlin, profited handsomely.

- adapted from Robin Silver


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