Community looking beyond Blackwater
Union Tribune (2008-03-13) Anne Krueger
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By Anne Krueger M
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
March 13, 2008
For more than a year, Blackwater Worldwide's proposal for a military and law enforcement training camp tore apart the tiny East County community of Potrero.
Since Blackwater officials announced last week that they are dropping plans for the facility, Potrero residents are trying to put the rift behind them and are looking ahead to other issues facing the backcountry town of 850 residents.
“Just having this Blackwater thing out of the way is such a relief,” said Karey Giguere, a 30-year Potrero resident.
Blackwater, a government contractor in the Iraq war, wanted to build a training center on an 824-acre former chicken and cattle ranch. The facility would have included shooting ranges, an armory, driving track and helipad.
Blackwater officials sought county approval for more than a year but withdrew their plans Friday after tests showed gunshots from the shooting ranges exceeded county noise standards.
Potrero residents feared the noise and traffic from Blackwater's project would disrupt their quiet rural community. Five of the nine members of the Potrero planning group who had supported the project were recalled in December by a 2-1 margin and replaced with residents who opposed Blackwater.
Three other planning group members were removed before the recall when officials determined they hadn't been properly appointed. On Tuesday, county supervisors appointed Giguere, Janet Warren and Mary Hall to take their places.
The Potrero planning group will meet tonight, and one of the items on its agenda is a vote to reconsider approval of the Blackwater project. Planning groups make recommendations to county officials on land-use issues, and their votes are only advisory.
Planning group Chairman Carl Meyer said the group will still discuss the project, though any vote will be a symbolic measure. “It will represent what the will of the people wanted,” Meyer said.
Feelings about Blackwater's project ran high in Potrero, said Warren, who has lived there a year.
“It was almost like you looked at people as pro-or anti-(Blackwater),” she said. “There was a little segregation thing going on because of that – short tempers, cold shoulders.”
To celebrate Blackwater's withdrawal, El Cajon-area resident Raymond Lutz is throwing a party at noon March 22 on Round Potrero Road, near the property of the proposed Blackwater site. Lutz, who ran an anti-Blackwater Web site and videotaped Potrero planning group meetings, calls the event a Potrero reunification party.
“I think the residents really want to patch things up,” Lutz said. “We're trying to get as many people back together as possible.”
Warren said there is another mammoth project that residents must speak out against – San Diego Gas & Electric's Sunrise Powerlink transmission line. One proposed route for the project would run through Potrero.
Potrero planning group meetings were raucous when Blackwater's plans were on the agenda; 50 to 60 people often attended them.
Warren said she hopes the political activism will continue. “We do have other issues, and we do have to take responsibility for ourselves.”
Anne Krueger: (619) 593-4962; firstname.lastname@example.org