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Blackwater's formal application came December 20, after the second Potrero meeting. The County would like to see the environmental review process completed in 20 to 22 months from that date.

Resident Tina Brown points out that in 1995, the planning group okayed an off-road vehicle park. Citizens protested vehemently, and eventually the proposal was scrapped. It was widely believed then that a planning group member had received a finder's fee. Could this have happened again? Gordon Hammers, chairman of the current planning group, says "that's strictly forbidden," and he would take no such fee. "That's innuendo." The planning group has given the go-ahead because, among several things, Potrero may get 30 to 45 jobs from the facility. Hammers was briefed by the project group and visited the site prior to the October 12 meeting.

Duncan McFetridge of Descanso's Save Our Forests and Ranchlands says that half the property is in the Cleveland National Forest, even though it is privately owned, and the other half is in an agricultural preserve. The County's general plan "does not account for this type of plan with forest and agriculture," he says. Blackwater West also goes against the county general plan "with respect to use of the property, with respect to the density, with respect to incompatibility with the environment."

The brouhaha comes at a bad time for Blackwater USA. The head of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wants to know why Blackwater has been paid so much for Iraq work. On February 7, the committee looked into the company on several grounds. One of its contracts with Halliburton may not be kosher, for example. The committee probed a lawsuit against Blackwater. People who lost loved ones when four employees were massacred in 2004 have charged that the company provided the men with inadequate equipment. In its defense, Blackwater has hired famed attorney Ken Starr and sued the lawyers who filed the case. Last month, five more Blackwater employees were killed in a helicopter crash. The company's owner, Erik Prince, has given lavishly to politicians, including former representative Tom DeLay, who left Congress in a lobbying scandal, and Duncan Hunter ($1000 in 2004).

Blackwater is one of the companies pilloried in the movie Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers. Save Our Forests and Ranchlands will show the film March 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Descanso Town Hall.

Wallar says the abbreviated environmental process is a "win-win-win situation for the community, county staff, and the developer." Potrero and environmentalists disagree. It appears the County's new fast-track process serves developers, not the public.


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