County won’t release all Blackwater docs
Deadline for public comment looms
Editor’s note: Freelance writer Miriam Raftery contacted county spokesperson Michael Workman April 6, and did not receive a response until April 17 at 4:30 p.m., after the deadline for this story. Responding to an inquiry by Raftery, Workman said the Blackwater USA proposal “has been assigned to Planner Jarrett Ramaiya, who is reviewing and responding to all comments directed to Planner Greg Kryzs and DPLU.”
By Miriam Raftery; The East County Californian
With a looming deadline for public comment, San Diego County officials did not respond to a reporter’s inquiries whether some comments would be included in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Blackwater USA’s proposed military-style training camp in Potrero.
At a crowded April 5 public meeting on Blackwater’s proposal, planners at the San Diego County Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) gave out comment forms to concerned citizens.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provides that public comment shall be accepted within 30 days after a Notice of Preparation is filed for a project with potentially significant environmental impacts.
The public was advised to return forms with comments regarding what should be included in the EIR no later than 4 p.m. on April 27. Potrero residents and other concerned citizens were told that only written comment forms sent to the contact provided would become part of the official public record – but there was one big problem.
The address, fax, and e-mail provided directed all comment forms to Greg Kryzs, who was the County’s project manager for the Blackwater proposal. County officials, however, knew that Kryzs was leaving his county job shortly after the meeting – and that no replacement was in order.
Ten days later, more than a week after Kryzs’s departure, numerous calls and e-mails sent to multiple County officials have failed to reassure citizens that public comment forms will be read before April 27 – or included in the project’s official EIR, as required by law.
“It sounds like deliberate obfuscation,” said Jan Hedlun, the only member of the Potrero Planning Group who opposes Blackwater’s proposal. “Although they told us that they would be taking our comments, it does not appear that this is going to be the case. Who are we going to turn to if not the County?”
At the April 5 scoping meeting held at the DPLU, Hedlun recalled, “They said they were going to do all of this in front of the media, and now they are throwing their hands in the air as though they don’t know who to take charge? They know darn well who is in charge, so why are they doing this tap dance? In any business when somebody leaves the business, there is always somebody who takes over. You don’t just leave dead air. Somebody is in charge of Greg Kryzs’s stuff, so why are they pretending they don’t know?”
A new project manager, Jarrett Ramaiya, has been assigned to oversee the Blackwater proposal, but an e-mail from Citizens Oversight Panels Chair Raymond Lutz revealed all Blackwater documents might not be released.
“I met him [Ramaiya] at the DPLU and he gave me a letter from their attorney stating that some information was going to be withheld from public review,” Lutz said.
Compact discs (CDs) on the project had originally been in the file, said Carl Meyer, a Potrero resident who spearheaded a petition against the Blackwater proposal. After Meyer inquired about obtaining copies of the CDs, he was advised that they were outdated and his request was denied.
When Lutz asked Jarrett Ramaiya to give him copies of the CDs and other materials, Lutz said, “Jarrett would not comment past saying that he would let the letter speak for itself, and that he had a number of boxes of material in the back. I asked to see the detailed plot plan, showed at the scoping meeting but not in the file. He said there was a lot of material he would have to go through and that all of it was not made available to the public.”
Most troubling, Lutz said, was a reply he received when he asked the new project manager if he would be reading the public comments sent to Kryzs’ e-mail address.
“ He said he was not briefed by Greg, and didn't know if he would get any of those emails,” Lutz said, adding that Ramaiya pledged to have the file in “ship-shape condition” by the middle of this week.
Ramaiya declined to comment on whether he or anyone else would be reading the public comments submitted to Kryzs and referred a reporter’s inquiry to Mike Workman, the County’s public relations spokesperson. Workman has not returned a reporter’s repeated calls and e-mails regarding Blackwater since April 6.
Glen Russell, another DPLU planner who previously talked to media about the Blackwater proposal, declined to comment. Russell referred a call to Workman, who did not respond.
A representative from Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s office declined to speak on the record.
The County has also not responded to e-mails on April 9 and 10 to Claire Tosh, Public Records Act request coordinator. Those e-mails asked for reassurance that all public comments on Blackwater’s proposal would be read before April 27 and become part of the official EIR.
A request was also made to Tosh for financial records for key public officials involved in decisions regarding Blackwater, specifically Potrero planners and Supervisors.
Tosh referred e-mails to Workman and advised he would respond after returning from vacation on April 12. A follow-up email to Tosh received only the same automated reply.
Environmental issues including golden eagle nests near the site were identified as potential “fatal flaws,” according to an Internal Working Draft on Blackwater
West Project Issues/Action Items dated October 23, 2006.
Blackwater has stated that it plans to provide additional foraging for eagles and set aside a portion of the land to mitigate potential harm.
Potrero residents and environmentalists have raised a number of different issues that they believe should be included in the EIR for Blackwater, including concerns about impacts on groundwater, air quality, threatened and endangered plants and wildlife species.
Whether Blackwater’s plan to build military-style shooting ranges, a vehicular training track the length of 10 football fields and other facilities on land surrounded by national forest and federal wilderness preserves will be deemed acceptable from an environmental standpoint will be determined by information contained in the EIR, including any public comments received—provided those comments are added to the record as required by California law.
As of press deadline on April 17, none of the County officials contacted responded to a reporter’s inquiries.
“What is the County trying to hide?” Hedlun asked after learning of document request denials and of the County’s refusal thus far to provide assurances that public comments will be read. “That does not give me warm fuzzies to believe that they are for the best interests of our community,” she concluded, “if they can’t be open or above board.”
-- Raymond Lutz
- 25 Apr 2007