The Herald/Review staff takes a look at newsworthy items from 2022:
There were a number of firsts for Cochise County in 2022 as residents sought to control the water under their feet, upend the midterm election and finally to move forward with the building of a new jail through the use of sales tax money.
For the first time in the state, a citizen–initiated Active Management Area was established in Cochise County as voters showed their concern for the state of the Douglas basin aquifer.
Arizona Water Defenders, a nonprofit with the mission to preserve the water supply, successfully ran a campaign to make the Douglas basin a protected water source with limitations on the water that can be pumped from the aquifer.
A number of meetings were held to inform people of the problem with the declining water table of the basin. Volunteers hit the streets to inform people of the issue and gather the required number of signatures in order to get the measure on the 2022 midterm election ballot.
With the approval of the election results by the county Board of Supervisors on Dec. 1, the AMA designation continued the ban on new irrigation wells.
The growth of new grain fields, which can produce two to three crops per year, has been pointed out as the cause of the decline of the water table.
In addition to prohibiting new irrigation, AMAs require farmers, municipalities and industrial operations to conserve groundwater.
On Thursday, the Arizona Department of Water Resources will discuss the steps to be taken during a public meeting 4-6 p.m. at Douglas High School.
ADWR will propose a groundwater management goal and plan for the Douglas Basin and must then hold public hearings and take public comment before finalizing the measure.
Gov. Katie Hobbs will appoint five members to the Groundwater Users Advisory Council who can be from the community if they have knowledge of the basin and can provide expert advice on the underground situation.
Though AWD successfully obtained enough verified signatures to place the Willcox basin AMA proposal on the ballot, the measure failed with 1,910 people opposing the proposition and 1,147 supporting it. The Willcox basin extends into Graham County and 80 voters there voted against it, with just 31 people voting for it.
The Willcox basin’s water decline and resulting fissures across a wide area has been recognized by ADWR hydrologists and geologists for many years.
Crosby, Judd seek ballot hand count
Another first for the county was a court ruling on the efforts to hand count the ballots of the 2022 election and postpone approval of the election results as pushed by Supervisors Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd and county recorder David Stevens, all Republicans.
Judd and Crosby tried to force county Elections Director Lisa Marra to participate in the hand count and filed a suit against her. Marra continued to oppose the hand count and followed the advice of County Attorney Brian McIntyre and Chief Civil Deputy County Attorney Christine Roberts, who warned the action was not legal.
The lawsuit against Marra became a focal point of open meeting law as there was no public notice of the hiring of an attorney to represent the supervisors in such a case. Crosby has ignored such warnings since he was elected in 2020.
The suit was quickly dropped as complaints of possible open meeting law violations were reported to the attorney general’s office.
Those decisions landed them in hot water as Secretary of State Election Director Kori Lorick cautioned them on the hand count and then sued Crosby and Judd on their refusal to follow the state law and approve the elections results by Nov. 28.
The two supervisors ignored their statutory duty and continued to delay the vote on election results, risking all county ballots.
Though the supervisors delayed approving the election results, Pima County Superior Court Judge Casey McGinley ruled they must follow the law and approve the results. He ordered them to approve the results at the end of the trial and gave them just a few hours to comply. Judd and Supervisor Ann English, who did not support the hand count or the postponement of approving the election results, complied with McGinley’s order, but Crosby did not attend the meeting.
Hobbs has asked for the attorney general and McIntyre to charge Crosby and Judd for the delay. So far, no charges have been filed.
One more first in the county was to see how voters would respond to a request to build a new jail, which will require an increase in the county retail sales tax of one–half cent. The existing jail is 40 years old and costs to maintain the aging structure continue to rise.
The supervisors prefer the slight tax increase as the district would be funded by all the people traveling through the county, not just residents.
The supervisors appointed members to the Jail District Advisory Board who met to discuss the project with law enforcement and jail staff and toured the existing jail. While the JDAC members did approve recommending the county move forward on a new facility, some were not happy with the location off State Route 80 in Bisbee and wanted the new jail in another part of the county, perhaps Willcox or Benson.
JDAC members recognized the need for more space, safer conditions and a 24/7 mental health component as more people with behavioral health and addiction issues find themselves incarcerated.
Now retired Superior Court Judge James Conlogue said at the time, “We saw firsthand the state of the jail. It’s clear that the current situation is unsustainable. The problems cannot be overcome with money. It’s at its end of life. Our opinion was that we face this issue head on and form the district. We unanimously agreed a new jail is needed. The district and the sales tax should be put to the voters.”
The new jail, to be built on county owned land where the old jail is, has an estimated cost of $90 million.
In May, voters will be able to cast their votes on the jail district and the sales tax increase.
The city of Benson appointed a new chief of police in Greg Volker on May 16.
Volker replaced Chief Paul Moncada, who retired after 46 years of service with the Benson Police Department.
Born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Volker comes to Benson with an extensive background in law enforcement.
He is a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1985-90 as a cavalry scout and reconnaissance specialist, stationed in Germany and El Paso, Texas, at Fort Bliss.
After his time in the army, he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, graduating from the University of Missouri at Kansas City in 1991.
His law enforcement career started in January 1992 when he was hired by the Kansas City Police Department. In his 29-year career with the department he held several positions, including police officer, a member of a narcotics enforcement group and a crime analyst.
Moncada, who started with the city of Benson on Dec. 30, 1975, rose through the ranks and was promoted to chief in October 2009.
In March he was recognized at a council meeting by Benson Mayor Joe Konrad and presented with a plaque for a career spent serving the citizens of Benson.
After 46 years with the city, Moncada decided it was time to retire and spend time with his family.
Paul Kerchum, possibly the last Bataan Death March survivor, died Dec. 27 in his J-6 home.
Born Jan. 25, 1920, Kerchum died six weeks shy of his 103rd birthday.
Kerchum started his military career at 17 after he joined the U.S. Army in 1938 during the Great Depression.
He started out with E Company, 27th Infantry and served in Hawaii, then reenlisted as a member of the B Company, 31st Infantry Regiment and served in the Philippines from 1940-45.
Kerchum survived the Bataan Death March, which he referred to as one of history’s greatest war atrocities. While on that 55-mile hot, dusty, march from Mariveles to the San Fernando rail head, he vividly recalled how men were shot, bayoneted, beheaded or beaten to death by Japanese soldiers. He spent 3½ years as a prisoner of war in labor camps in the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan under the Japanese Army.
When the war ended in 1945, Kerchum left the Army and enlisted in what was then the U.S. Army Air Corps, later the U.S. Air Force. He retired from the military with 29 years service. In addition to World War II, he fought in the Korean War.
Benson Hospital celebrates imaging suite
Benson Hospital celebrated the completion of its state-of-the-art imaging suite in March, representing an addition to the facility that will enhance patient care across Cochise County.
A new computed tomographer scanner, an advanced imaging ultrasound and high quality digital X-ray equipment are upgrades the suite brings to the area.
The newly completed $4 million project broke ground in February 2021 and was completed nearly a year later. Located on the hospital’s northwest side, the suite includes 2,800 square feet of new construction and 1,440 square feet of remodel.
The imaging suite is the hospital’s first major project in 15 years. In addition to the suite, the hospital invested another $1.2 million in technology, renovations of the rooms and has upgraded various areas of the hospital.
Paul Lotsof, a longtime Benson radio voice, died on Aug. 23. He was 79.
From the time Benson-based Cave Radio 97.7 (KAVV) hit Cochise County’s airwaves 40 years ago, Lotsof has served as the station’s owner and manager.
“For 40 years, Paul was Cave Radio’s everything,” said Joaquin Haro, a 40-year Cave broadcaster. “He was our owner, manager, music director, program director and engineer. He took care of it all. He was a brilliant man and very dedicated to his profession.”
As Cave’s early morning broadcaster, it was Haro who found Lotsof deceased when he arrived at the station to start his shift.
Lotsof is described as someone who loved music and sharing information with the public. Often outspoken and unafraid to stand his ground, he was appreciated and controversial.
A regular at Benson City Council meetings, Lotsof often addressed council members about different agenda items and offered suggestions for changes he felt would benefit the community.
A new Jack in the Box restaurant, located at 601 W. Fourth St. on the corner of Fourth and Ocotillo in Benson, opened July 20.
The restaurant represents the second Jack in the Box to do business in Benson. The first, which was located at 775 N. Ocotillo Road, closed in July 2015 after serving the community for 15 years.
A “Jack is Back” banner displayed at the front of the new restaurant announced its return.
George Scott, executive director of Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group, commented on the restaurant’s business when it first opened.
“The parking lot is always full of cars and the drive-thru is constantly busy,” he said. “Because of its location on the main street in town, the restaurant gives people another option and convenient place to stop to eat. From an economic standpoint, it’s great for Benson because it provides jobs for our local residents.”
Burger King serves Benson
A new Burger King located at 891 W. Fourth St. opened its doors around September.
The 3,000-square-foot building features an indoor play area for kids and will seat about 100 guests.
City engineer Brad Hamilton, who worked closely with the project’s design engineer throughout construction, was pleased with how the project progressed despite construction delays because of shortages in materials.
“This is a great addition for Benson,” he said. “They had to put the project on hold temporarily because of COVID issues and supply chain issues, but were able to get back on track again and move construction along.”
Camp Naco has long been neglected, but since it was recognized as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation last year there is much renewed interest in restoring the camp built in 1919.
The camp is a part of the heritage of the Buffalo Soldiers created by Congress in 1866 for four African American regiments that served in the West.
The camp was decommissioned in 1923 and passed through the hands of various owners, including Huachuca City. In 2018, Huachuca City transferred the property to Bisbee due to lack of resources to preserve the camp.
Over the years, the camp has been vandalized, suffered a fire and has endured erosion and severe damage to the adobe buildings.
The vision for the camp’s restoration will make it a living museum of Buffalo Soldier history, the Mexican Revolution and a place for tourism, arts and culture. It will also create a sense of place and provide more community resources in Naco, Ariz.
The recognition produced a $4.6 million award in October from Gov. Doug Ducey and another $3.5 million grant in December from the Mellon Foundation.
Mayor Ken Budge said, “Camp Naco and its cultural and military importance are valuable assets to our community and the region. We cannot allow this this iconic place to melt back into the desert. We hope this will renew interest from regional, state and national interests who see the value in protecting this place and converting it for needed community resources.”
Thanks to the partnership with Bisbee Bikeways, the city has received $8.5 million in grants to move the project forward to connect the city’s boroughs with safe pedestrian and cycling pathways.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced the department’s Economic Development Administration grant award of $4.5 million funded through the American Rescue Plan Act in September and noted the grant was “to boost tourism through improvements to recreational amenities.”
The grant will help pay for construction of the shared–use path for pedestrians and cyclists for the proposed pathway plan for State Route 80 along the Lavender Pit to will be added to the state’s Sun Corridor Trail which will stretch from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Douglas.
The 1.4-mile project will reduce the four lanes on State Route 80 from Main Street to Erie Street to two lanes, with a turn lane at the Lavender Pit.
The grant had the support of U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
Affordable housing efforts
With the growth of Airbnbs and other short-term lodging, affordable long-term housing for people who work in Bisbee is in short supply.
Under former City Manager Theresa Coleman, the city began to acquire distressed properties which owners failed to keep current with their taxes. The city purchased the liens on 10 properties and five homes have been sold.
The city partnered with Step Up Bisbee/Naco, which provides the labor to repair the distressed homes. Step Up Bisbee/Naco is a nonprofit that organizes volunteers to fix up homes for those with restricted incomes and who are disabled.
The city pays for the renovation supplies and Step Up volunteers do the work. As each home is sold, the money left over after expenses goes back into the fund to keep the workforce affordable housing program moving forward.
So far, Step Up volunteers have renovated five and the city has sold five. There are more people on a waiting list ready to buy.
The city also continues to address the affordable housing dilemma in the city with the experienced buyers Butler Housing Company in partnership with CBC Financial Corporation who made the successful high bid of $700,000 for the Hillcrest Apartments. The Hillcrest will be renamed Bisbee Historic Loft Apartments.
CBC offered a solid plan and after renovation will offer 33 apartments for rent as part of the city’s goal to add more affordable housing for qualified, employed residents who have incomes of $20,000 to $40,000 a year. A few who have Section 8 housing vouchers may also be able to rent apartments. Rents would be set at around $400 to $600 a month depending on the size of the apartment and the rents must stay low for 30 years.
The anticipated opening of the Bisbee Historic Loft Apartments is in 2024.
The proposed port of entry expansion project dominated the news in Douglas.
In August, representatives from the the General Services Administration hosted a public scoping meeting in support of an Environmental Impact Statement for the two planned port of entry projects, allowing Douglas residents to show up, ask questions and express their views.
In November, the Douglas City Council unanimously agreed to donate 80 acres of undeveloped city-owned land and provide some utilities located on the border near James Ranch Road to the GSA for the construction of the new commercial port of entry.
In December, Gov. Doug Ducey allocated $8.9 million in support of the construction of the new port of entry.
The existing port of entry in Douglas was built nearly 90 years ago and is unable to sustain the amount of trade that passes through it.
Improving the port requires the city of Douglas to adopt the Two-Port Solution. The existing ports will be for commuters, visitors and pedestrians, and the upcoming port will be for commercial use and trade.
In November 2021, Congress funded the port of entry project in Douglas through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, allocating $400 million toward the Two-Port Solution.
Construction of the commercial port of entry is anticipated to begin in 2025. The project is expected to be completed in 2028.
In November the Douglas City Council moved forward with its plans to purchase the old Food City building on San Antonio Avenue for $900,000. Food City closed and pulled out of Douglas in October 2021, leaving the city with just one major grocery store.
For the past year city leaders have attempted to get another grocery store into the now vacant location but have failed due to the demographics of Douglas not meeting business models.
The possibility of purchasing the Food City building, which is owned by Pacific Resources Associates LLC of Oregon, was brought up in order to help in the development and attraction of a new grocer and to ensure the building does not get sold for other purposes and leave a void in grocery service in the city.
The original asking price was about $2.1 million. The price negotiated was for the building and adjacent parking lot area, excluding the old pharmacy section owned by another private party.
An estimated $500,000 in repairs will need to be made before the building is ready for occupancy.
Sale of the building is expected to be completed in 2023 at which time city crews will begin repairs.
The Douglas Fire Department held a recognition ceremony June 26 and firefighter Andres Escojido was presented with the Medal of Gallantry award for his efforts in assisting a Bisbee police officer in rescuing two women from a fully engulfed house fire in Bisbee April 22.
Escojido was returning to Douglas from paramedic training in Sierra Vista when he came upon the fire.
New badges and promotions were announced and handed out that day as well.
In May, horse racing returned to the Cochise County Fairgrounds for the first time in three years, attracting an estimated 5,000 people who attended the two-day event and helped bring in some much needed tax revenue to the city.
Superintendent makes a visit
Arizona School Superintendent Kathy Hoffman was in Douglas Sept. 29 and visited several classrooms at Douglas High School and Ray Borane Middle School. Accompanying her was Courtney Acosta, a 2015 DHS graduate who for the past three years had been Hoffman’s director of policy and legislative affairs at the Arizona Department of Education.
Douglas’ Walmart was recognized by the company as its store of the year.
Douglas Walmart manager Oscar Valenzuela was presented with Walmart’s Every Day Heroes award for his work not only with the local store but also in the community.
A July storm that blew through Douglas and other parts of Cochise County knocked out power to an estimated 325 people on the outskirts of Douglas for several days and led to thousands of dollars in damage. The worst hit area, according to Arizona Public Service, was along U.S. Route 191 from the Bisbee-Douglas International Airport and the Arizona State Prison Complex in Douglas south to Glenn Road and Kings Highway. The area of Silver Creek and Coronado Lakes was also in the damaged area.
In February the community mourned the loss of 12-year-old Bryan Chacon as he was killed while riding his bike to school. He was in the sixth grade at Ray Borane Middle School.
Hundreds of Douglas residents braved a chilly night to attend a candlelight vigil in his honor that was held at the crash site several days later.
In September, Douglas said goodbye to retired Douglas police sergeant Jose Duarte, whose five-year battle with cancer ended with his passing. St. Luke’s Catholic Church on 15th Street was packed, as were the streets of Douglas as the community showed its respect. A motorcade carrying his flag-draped coffin passed by on its way to his final resting place at Calvary Cemetery.
Tombstone High School agricultural education and welding students will soon be enjoying a new facility for their classes.
A 4,000-square-foot metal building that houses two 1,000-square-foot classrooms and a 2,000-square-foot state-of-the-art lab, which is shared between the two programs, will be ready for the students toward the start of the new year. Currently, the high school’s agriculture and welding programs lack a facility.
The newly constructed building cost about $1.4 million for both the building and equipment. The facility was funded with Career and Technical Education District and ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) money, a COVID relief fund. ESSER funds were designated to support K-12 schools in response to the COVID pandemic when statewide school closures happened. The federal funds are administered by the Arizona Department of Education.
Donkey Dash delights crowd
The streets of Tombstone filled with braying burros on April 3 as nearly 70 donkey-human teams competed in the town’s third annual Desert Donkey Dash.
The event, which is tied to the town’s Schieffelin Days celebration, is a tribute to Tombstone’s rich mining history and prospector Ed Schieffelin, who is credited as the town’s founder. In 1877 Schieffelin ventured out into the rugged hills surrounding what is now Tombstone and struck it rich in silver. As news of Schieffelin’s discovery spread, fortune seekers flocked to the area and Tombstone was born.
The Desert Donkey Dash proceeds benefit a list of nonprofit organizations, including the Tombstone Animal Shelter and two Cochise County donkey rescues.
Always celebrated on the first Saturday in April, this year’s Donkey Dash is April 1.
Tombstone hosted its third-annual Native American Festival on Oct. 8, a daylong event featuring a parade, ceremonial dances and music performed before a huge crowd that filled the Shoot Out Arena.
More than 1,500 people were in Tombstone for the event.
Co-hosted by the Southeastern Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Spotted Eagle Native Arts and Crafts, an arts and crafts store located in Tombstone, the festival was emceed by highly acclaimed Hopi silversmith Steve LaRance, who grew up in the rural village of Moenkopi in Arizona. He is recognized as someone who has dedicated his life to preserving the cultural heritage of his people’s ancient songs and dances.
The entertainment lineup included world champion hoop dancer Tony Duncan and his family, as well as the White Mountain Apaches’ Cha’Bii’Tu Crown Dance Group.
Internationally known Zuni/Omaha Fabian Fontenelle delivered a captivating performance of ancient sacred songs and dancing, adorned in hand-crafted regalia.
Fontenelle’s performances are accompanied by his equally well-known wife, Shelly Morningsong, a Cheyenne award-winning singer, songwriter, flute player and author. Morningsong and Fontelle teamed up to perform a traditional Blanket Dance, which invites crowd participation.
The city, founded in 1880, celebrated its 142nd birthday and marked a return from the social and business lethargy that the COVID pandemic and restrictions brought about. As Willcox Mayor Mike Laws put it, “we’re back to normal.”
Willcox Theater holds party
In January, the historic Willcox Theater marked its 85th year of operation with a party and celebration. The Depression-era theater has operated nearly continuously since, taking short breaks for remodeling and improvements.
In September the theater received an Economic Development Administration grant of $1.7 million from the American Rescue Plan. The money will go toward the creation of the Center of Art and Heritage as well as the renovation of two historic buildings to incorporate a virtual reality studio and an exhibition center.
Laws and the city council had a busy year working for their constituents, a year filled with challenges and successes.
Historic levels of inflation, rising fuel prices and rising lending rates slowed progress in some projects, like making significant investments in the sporting facilities at Keiller and Quail parks by improving the lighting and redesigning the play fields, and the new Willcox Farm, Ranch, and Youth Event Center, a 250-foot-by-225-foot building. Both projects are near completion.
They succeeded in bringing a Love’s Travel Stop service station and grew the city through annexing, while acquiring available government grants to support city infrastructure.
The long-awaited Tirrito Farm opened as a business. Yuri and Dr. Salvatore Tirrito created an impressive destination for food, drink and relaxation, opening a microbrewery and cafe, with a shop featuring local wares. The 80-acre farm boasts 14,600 grape vines, 1,000 pistachio trees, and a fledgling dairy operation.
In the November General Election Willcox residents had three city council seats to fill and two major local issues were up for a vote, a $27 million bond override for the Willcox Unified School District and the creation of a groundwater management area for the Willcox basin.
The district wanted to use the funding for facilities and equipment, including the track and field, which needs a complete overhaul to the tune of $3 to $5 million. Another chunk was to be used for safety and security measures. The 70-year-old elementary school needs $3 million-$4 million worth of work.
A citizen-initiated measure to decide if registered voters wanted an Active Management Area established in the Willcox Basin was intended to protect groundwater for future generations.
The AMA would be subject to statutory and administrative regulations regarding the withdrawal and use of groundwater.
Both measures were defeated.
Laws, Councilman Timothy Bowlby, Councilwoman Rebecca Akes and Councilman Paul Sheats were reelected to new terms.
Willcox High teacher Ty White received two state teaching titles, the Arizona Educational Foundation 2023 Arizona Teacher of the Year award and 2021 Arizona’s Rural Teacher of the Year from the Arizona Rural Schools Association.
Sophomore wrestler Kash Macumber, coached by dad Pat Macumber, had a memorable state meet, taking second place in the 157-pound weight class at the Division IV in February. He went on to start as quarterback for the football team.
Another young talent, sophomore Jacob Kaufman, aced a perfect tennis season, 16-0 in singles, 16-0 in doubles. He went 4-1 in singles in the postseason, reaching the Division III state singles championship finals on May 4.
The Cowboys football team was 2A San Pedro Region champions, and reached the state semifinals. Cristian Pando rushed for 1,807 yards.
The Willcox Allstars, the 8/10-year-olds softball team, won the state tournament, knocking off the defending state champions from Cave Creek Cactus Foothills.
Pitcher Hattie Macumber, Kash’s sister, struck out 14 in the title game.
Herald/Review reporters Shar Porier, Bruce Whetten, Dana Cole and Hector Acuna contributed to this report.