Harold Vangilder

  • Harold Vangilder: speaking frankly for economic growth

    Maria Nasif

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, The Southwest's last real river: Will it flow on?

Harold Vangilder, 52, is a Sierra Vista city councilman, a program development specialist at the University of Arizona's Sierra Vista campus, a retired Fort Huachuca civil servant and a founder of the pro-growth Fort Huachuca 50. He and his wife moved to Sierra Vista from Tucson in 1978, two years after they'd moved to Tucson from Oklahoma. His comments are excerpted from an interview with reporter Tony Davis.

"The people who say we've been in denial about water are people who have never been part of the debate. They're the same people who go to the 7-acre wetlands at our sewage pond and watch the birds ... Our city building codes are pretty stringent. You have to put in retention basins for new development. The city of Sierra Vista has never failed to join any water forum to promote conservation ...

"Earlier this year, we heard environmentalists saying, "You've gotta do water reclamation, do re-use of water." We hadn't thought about that, so we decided we'll do it. So we go back to one of these meetings and we announce that we are going to do water recharge, we're going to get a federal grant to study it. Then, I can't remember who it was, someone from the Audubon Society, says, "I don't know if I want to drink sewer water." I believe water is not the real issue with these people; the real issue is how to stop the spread of man ...

"Let's suppose there were no humans on the planet. What difference would it make on the San Pedro? The only way the river is meaningful is if it is filtered through human experience. It's not worth a tinker's dam when filtered through the eyes of coyotes, snail darters, owls or snails.

"The difference between me and the environmentalists is where the emphasis is placed. They would save the planet strictly for the sake of the planet. I'd save the planet for the sake of human enjoyment of the planet. I can never understand why a beaver building a dam is a natural, beautiful thing, but why a human building a dam is an assault on Mother Earth ...

"I have phenomenal resentment that many of the environmentalists here have no economic ties to the community. It's arrogant, it's like me going to a distant community and saying, 'I know how to fix your problems,' when I never had a stake in those problems or those dreams. They are not here for my benefit. They are only adding to my grief."