Residents balked at putting a Blackwater training camp near a sleepy mountain community, voting to recall five members of an advisory planning board that endorsed the global security firm's plan.
The results of a mail-in-ballot recall in the village of Potrero were announced early Wednesday, several hours after polls closed Tuesday night. The board members — Jerry Johnson, Mary Johnson, Gordon Hammers, Janet Wright and Thell Fowler — lost by wide margins. A sixth member who was not on the board at the time of the endorsement was not up for recall.
Hammers said that the board's decision had been misconstrued and that its goal was to investigate what jobs and other perks having Blackwater could mean for the community.
"We chose to stay engaged," said Hammers. "Certain elements made it an anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war surrogate and sold that to the community. They were successful."
Blackwater wanted to turn an 800-acre former chicken farm into a training camp for law enforcement officers. The facility would have included 11 firing ranges, a driving track and a helipad. But opposition to the plan intensified in September, after Blackwater guards were investigated in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
Supporters of the project said Blackwater would bring development and turn Potrero, home of about 850 people, into a middle-class town.
Noise, traffic among concerns
Opponents say it would increase noise and traffic, compromising the quiet country atmosphere of the area in scrub-covered mountains about 45 miles east of San Diego.
Final say over the project rests with the county Board of Supervisors, who won't consider the plan until environmental impact reports have been completed.
Blackwater said it would press on with the project.
"Despite the results of the election, Blackwater will continue to seek approval for the Potrero facility because these results have no bearing on the land use or environmental impact report issues, both of which we are confident are not compromised by our proposal," Blackwater West vice president Brian Bonfiglio said Wednesday.
"In the meantime, we will work closely with the new planning board to educate them on the realities of Blackwater and the benefits our facility would have on this community."
The proposed training camp site is remote and shielded by mountains, but it is also a short drive from downtown San Diego and its military bases and federal law-enforcement field offices — including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol.
Since the Baghdad shootings, Blackwater says it is focusing on its training operations and trying to wean itself from overseas contracts.