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(cross-posted from Courage Campaign also at calitics)

Oh, hell no!

It's bad enough that an ex-Blackwater lobbyist holds a prominent position in the California Department of Homeland Security. But now the private "security" firm Blackwater USA wants to build an 824-acre mercenary training camp outside the tiny rural town of Potrero in San Diego County.

If it is approved by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, the "Blackwater West" training facility would mark the third point in a so-called Blackwater Triangle that already includes their main base in Moyock, NC and their just recently opened facility, Blackwater North, in Mount Carroll, Illinois.

Creeped out yet? More on the project and the efforts underway to stop it over the flip.

According to a great Raw Story piece from earlier this month, the proposed Blackwater West facility

would include 15 firing ranges for automatic and semi-automatic weapons and small caliber guns, as well as an emergency vehicle operator’s course the length of ten football fields -- 3,280 feet in length and 1,320 feet in width, according to a project description. The facility would also include bunkhouses and commando-type training facilities, ship simulators, and law enforcement and rescue safety training towers with rock-climbing walls and platforms.

The facility would house as many as 360 instructors and students at any given time, in a town of only 840. Remarkably, the project has already been approved by the Potrero planning group (an advisory body) in a 7-0 vote last December. Not that all members of the planning group support Blackwater mind you.

Jan Hedlun is the lone Potrero planner opposing the project. Elected in November, Hedlun didn’t vote at the December meeting because she says she wasn’t told she was eligible.

"I’m in the middle of a battle," Hedlun said. "I am a lamb in a lion’s den. They’re pushing this through quicker than anything I’ve ever heard in my entire life."

The San Diego Reader concurs, calling it an "ambush." While Blackwater was busy laying the groundwork gaining the support they'd need to get the OK from the planning group during much of last year, the public wasn't informed of the plan until October.

The planning for this assault was well down the road before Potrero citizens even knew about it. "They have been trying to build support without notifying anybody here," says resident Carl Meyer. "I have proof that since May they [Blackwater] have been meeting privately with Department of Planning and Land Use personnel. They have been trying to get standards lowered" in noise, roads, and other parts of the plan.

Not even Representative Bob Filner, in whose district the training camp would reside, was immune from the ambush. According to The San Diego Union Tribune:

company officers did not contact him until after they met with county planners, and after the local planning group unanimously approved a preliminary proposal.

Now that people are aware of it, however, they're not happy. Of the 450 registered voters in the town, more than 300 of them have signed a petition opposing the project. There may even be an effort underway to recall the 7 members of the planning board that voted in favor of the project last year. And Filner is working to block the project.

He told the AP that he is exploring legislation that would block the deal pending further review by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has included Blackwater in its review of Iraqi war contractors.

In addition, the grassroots uprising has been phenomenal. An April 5, a Department of Planning and Land Use scoping meeting to discuss the environmental impact of the proposed facility attracted more than 100 protesters. Video is HERE and a local NBC news report can be viewed HERE.

In addition, Raymond Lutz, president of the East County Democratic Club has started, which links to a great wiki. He's been really leading this fight.  

Now, the good news is that Blackwater West is not in danger of becoming a reality any time soon. Because the area is currently zoned for agriculture, an environmental impact report is required to change the zoning before it actually goes to the Board of Supes. This process should take up to 22 months. So we have time, but all the more reason we need to fight now.

Stay tuned for more very soon including what YOU can do to help!

Originally posted to todd at courage campaign on Wed Apr 25, 2007 at 01:02 PM PDT.

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