For the 90 residents living west of Molitar Road, Wind Zero is an attack on their way of life and a potential threat to their water supply.
  • For the 90 residents living west of Molitar Road, Wind Zero is an attack on their way of life and a potential threat to their water supply.
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Change doesn’t come often to the desert community of Nomirage, located 13 miles east of San Diego County and 2 miles southeast of Ocotillo’s quiet town center.

But change is what will happen when Brandon Webb, the 36-year-old former Navy Seal and chief executive officer of San Diego firm Wind Zero, breaks ground on a law-enforcement and military-training facility 30 feet from Nomirage’s eastern border.

The 944-acre facility will have indoor firing ranges and semi-enclosed ranges, including one 300-meter range and mock-up urban environments with street layouts and ten live-fire training houses. According to the project’s environmental impact report, after all three phases of the project are complete, an estimated 57,000 bullets will be fired on a typical day.

In addition, the facility will offer two helicopter landing pads, an airstrip, three road courses — two for training law enforcement and military personnel and the third a 6.1-mile racetrack for car enthusiasts — a three-story burn and rappel tower, a hotel, a restaurant, and private living quarters.

Yet for the 90 residents living west of Molitar Road, the dirt road that marks the border between Nomirage and Wind Zero, the facility is an attack on their way of life and a potential threat to their water supply.

Critics claim the project is identical to a controversial proposal by Blackwater (now renamed Xe Services) to build an 824-acre training facility in Potrero. That proposal was contested by local residents and environmental groups. The company retreated after it was found that noise levels from gunfire would exceed county standards.

Retreat is what residents of Nomirage would like to see from Wind Zero. Anger over Wind Zero’s proposal intensified in June 2007 when Brian Bonfiglio, Blackwater’s vice president, showed up at a presentation that Wind Zero chief executive Webb was giving at a community meeting.

“There’s been a lot of negativity about this Blackwater issue,” Webb says during a January 17 phone interview. “There’s this big conspiracy that we’re a shadow company for Blackwater, but it’s ridiculous. [Bonfiglio] showed up at the meeting, and I didn’t even know until afterwards. If we were associated, then the worst thing I could do would be to bring a member of Blackwater to a community meeting.”

Jim Sierawski, spokesperson for United Training Services, a division of Xe Services, denies that Xe has any involvement in Wind Zero’s proposed training facility.

While there is no evidence of a link between the firms, Webb admits that there are similarities between his project and Blackwater’s, such as the shooting ranges and road courses. “Blackwater started right about the same time we did,” says Webb. “I get why people think there are similarities because there are. But when you look at the plans, there are major differences.”

One important difference is the location. While the site of Blackwater’s proposed facility was near the Mexican border in southeast San Diego County, Wind Zero’s site is outside Ocotillo, where fewer residents live.

But the residents of Nomirage believe that Wind Zero’s project will destroy their quiet desert lifestyle.

Nomirage sits between Interstate 8 and Highway 98, seven miles east of the mountains. Approximately 50 homes on one-acre lots make up the community. Creosote bushes dot the landscape. Roads are unpaved and bumpy. The large lots make the houses look small and provide room for mobile homes and old RVs. Nearly every property has at least one rusty shed.

Violet Steele’s house lies on the community’s eastern boundary. Her backyard faces the open land now owned by Wind Zero. On a January afternoon, over the faint sound of traffic from I-8, she and three other women, all retired and over 60, have gathered at Steele’s home to discuss the impacts that Wind Zero’s project will have on their lives.

“Who wants to live next to shooting ranges and heliports and racetracks?” asks Ginny Chandlee, whose property also borders Molitar Road. “It’s not reasonable. My husband and I used to walk outside and listen to the quiet. He passed away two years ago, and I’m sure that he’s rolling over in his ashes.”

“This is all we have,” says Barbara Hill. “Our houses will be worth nothing. We have no place to go.”

The women jump from one objection to another, all of which focus on three issues: noise, traffic, and water.

“They say we won’t hear guns firing,” says Steele. “How could they say that? Fifty-seven thousand bullets? We hear everything out here. That’s one of the reasons we moved here was because of the quiet.”

In addition to the sounds of gunfire, another worry is the traffic the facility will bring. The environmental impact report estimates that the project will generate 4391 trips during the week and 5266 on weekends.

Edie Harmon’s biggest concern is water.

According to the environmental impact report, two new potable water wells located on Wind Zero’s site will pump 144,000 gallons per day from the Coyote Wells Valley Groundwater Basin. The basin, designated by the United States Geological Survey as a sole-source aquifer, provides the only source of domestic water in the area. Harmon, who lives in Ocotillo, says the water level in the basin is dropping.

“Each lot in this area has to have its own well,” says Harmon. “You can pump a small quantity of water from many different places, but if you try to pump a lot from one location, it will take the water from other wells and contaminate the rest.”

Harmon says the lower the water levels get the more saline the water becomes. If the water becomes too saline it will be nonpotable.

“The supposed expert hired by [Webb] to prepare the environmental impact report did not include the most recent United States Geological Survey water study,” says Harmon. “They relied on a faulty study from 2004.”

Harmon accuses Imperial County’s Planning Department staff and its board of supervisors, who approved the project at their December 21 meeting, of ignoring data in order to generate property- and sales-tax revenues.

“The county wants to believe that there is plenty of water for the development it wants,” she says. “But when this water is gone, it’s gone, and there is no potential for recharging the basin. Without it, this area is uninhabitable.”

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Comments

Robert Hagen Jan. 27, 2011 @ 11:47 a.m.

Excellent report, Mr. Hargrove. Thanks for the heads up.

With Wind Zero, as with Blackwater, what we have is a couple former Navy SEALs that have a problem understanding James Bond movies.

So lets go over this apparent bump in the road of consciousness thats at play here.

The hero in James Bond movies is James Bond, it is not,

REPEAT

IT IS NOT

the kooky focker that wants to build a compound with helipads and take over the world. That would be the villain. Look that up, don't take my word for it.

Additional themes in this latest misbegotten adventure include

Chain of Command.

Lets lick our finger, place it in the air, check the wind, and see if we can determine, as best we can, what is the chain of command. Having done so, we can determine whether or not to bivouac two miles outside the San Diego County limits, or whether prevailing wind conditions favor decamping said location in favor of Alaska.

Because San Diego already has all of the military capacity necessary to conduct its affairs. Were Wind Zeros training ability so great, its directors, whomever they are, would appreciate that before a shot is fired in training, anger or

BY MISTAKE

its advisable to observe the chain of command.

Intelligence GENIUSES may also be tantalized to examine, hopefully not over the course of decades, hint hint, that permitting scads of unknown individuals who listen to former SEALs and favor walrus mustaches to scurry about, hither and yon, heavily armed and questionably trained is a security sieve.

Finally, bringing already well trained peace officers into this boiling cauldron of mercenary activity for- what?

Advanced training? The fact is Brandon Webb would benefit from training by actual police, not the other way around.

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brittlebush Jan. 27, 2011 @ 9:07 p.m.

The approval of this project was a knife in the heart not just to the people who live next to the proposed site but for everyone in the Imperial Valley who loves this part of the desert. The Ocotillo Nomirage area is stunningly beautiful with wide expanses of desert backed by the mountains. In the spring the yellow brittlebush are mixed in with the red ocotillo flowers and it's spectacular. And it's wonderfully quiet and peaceful. San Diegans might want to come down and explore the area while the weather is good and before the peace is disturbed by 20 shooting ranges and a racetrack.

Thanks Mr. Hargrove for the excellent story. One detail--Webb says that they moved the firing ranges a half mile from the residential neighborhood. At the Planning Commission meeting in August, his chief engineer, Jeff Lyon, stated that the semi-enclosed (read semi-open!) shooting ranges were 660 feet from the nearest house. That is 1/8 of a mile!

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Robert Hagen Jan. 28, 2011 @ 6:03 p.m.

I want to apologize to Mr. Webb and his associates for an above post that is intemperate, sarcastic in an insulting way, and largely devoid of substance.

The appropriate way to discuss important issues is politely, and reasonably. The remarks reflect poorly on me, not on anyone else.

An apology is warranted, along with a commitment to amend my actions in the future. Regardless of what the issue is, when people are personally attacked verbally, it just adds to the contention, and doesn't serve the debate at all.

Once again, my sincere apologies to Mr. Webb et al.

Sincerely,

Robert Hagen aka Diegonomics

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