Potrero pulls together
Union Tribune (2007-10-30) Anne Krueger
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Blackwater's relief effort wins praise of project foe
By Anne Krueger
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
October 30, 2007
As Potrero planning group member Jan Hedlun tries to help her community recover from the Harris fire, she's found an unlikely ally providing assistance: Blackwater USA Vice President Brian Bonfiglio.
Even though Hedlun opposes Blackwater's plans for a training camp, she's been impressed that Bonfiglio has stopped by the fire station every day to drop off donated food and supplies.
Hedlun has thanked him for his help.
“I don't agree with the Blackwater facility, but they were one of the first ones here,” Hedlun said. “All they said was, 'What can we do?' ”
Hedlun is the only person on the nine-member planning group who opposes the training camp for military and law enforcement proposed for the backcountry community along state Route 94.
The project, still in the planning stages, has divided the town and brought about a recall effort targeting five other planning group members. A recall election is set for Dec. 11.
Hedlun said she's played a minor role volunteering at the Potrero fire station, which has been turned into an emergency center. At least a dozen homes in Potrero were lost, and most of the 800 residents are without electricity.
After the wildfires swept through the area, Blackwater led the way in bringing donated food and supplies.
Raymond Lutz, an El Cajon-area resident who runs an anti-Blackwater Web site, is skeptical of the company's motives. He said he believes Blackwater is helping Potrero residents to sway public opinion.
“They're trying to win the hearts and minds of the community through their money,” Lutz said. “When you've got a really bad reputation, I guess you try to fix it with money.”
Hedlun noted that many of those volunteering at the fire station favor Blackwater, while opponents haven't been there.
In a phone call to Lutz yesterday, Hedlun told him: “The people who've been supporting this community are all the ones you don't like.”
The Harris fire, which grew to more than 90,000 acres, was so named because it began Oct. 21 near Harris Ranch Road in Potrero. Many of the residents who evacuated their homes found spoiled food in their refrigerators when they returned. Without electricity, they can't run the pumps that provide water from their wells.
A section of state Route 94 west of Potrero was closed, limiting access to San Diego – and a ready supply of food and water.
Beginning last Wednesday, the Potrero fire station was turned into an emergency center offering meals to as many as 300 people a day, along with groceries they could take home.
Yesterday, Bonfiglio drove up to the fire station with his Hummer filled with canned goods, trash bags, cereal, diapers and other supplies. He said Blackwater planned to deliver a 26-foot trailer of supplies to Barrett Junction as part of an effort to help the communities along state Route 94 devastated by the fire.
Bonfiglio said Blackwater helps the community around its headquarters in Moyock, N.C., and wants to aid the community here.
“This is something we've always done,” he said. “This is what we do.”
Five members of the planning group were targeted by a recall campaign after they gave early approval to Blackwater's plans. Thell Fowler, one of the five, has volunteered at the fire station since Wednesday.
Fowler said he appreciated any help being offered to Potrero.
“I don't care if Hitler came out of his grave and donated stuff to us, we'd take it,” he said.
Ron Spinneit, who lost his home in the fire, has been living in a cargo container on his property off Route 94. He said he appreciated the help he's gotten.
“I am the richest man in Potrero,” he said. “My neighbors have come to me and said I can have anything I need. I am getting riches that you can't put a price on.”
Anne Krueger: (619) 593-4962; email@example.com