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Locals Against Training Camp In East County

POSTED: 10:15 am PDT May 12, 2007
UPDATED: 11:07 am PDT May 12, 2007

A private military security company with extensive U.S. military contracts in Iraq wants to set up a paramilitary training camp in the rugged mountains east of San Diego, but many local residents are planning to remove the local officials who endorse it.

Blackwater USA proposes to turn an 824-acre abandoned chicken ranch into a training camp with pistol and rifle ranges, helipad, armory and defensive- driving motor course, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Blackwater has won more than $750 million in U.S. contracts for work in Iraq, according to critics of the firm.

The company describes itself as "a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping and stability operations firm," and many residents of rural eastern San Diego County say they are uneasy with its possible new neighbor.

At a 2-1/2-hour long meeting last week in Potrero, residents divided into two camps, with t-shirts and raucous shouting punctuating the meeting of a local planning group that was reconsidering the issue.

"We're trying to govern here in a sane way," said group chairman Gordon Hammers, quoted in the Union-Tribune. "All this political frenzy is counterproductive."

Opponents of the Blackwater rezoning, which must eventually be decided by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, have vowed to recall and vote out the Potrero planning committee.

They have also threatened a lawsuit, and are demanding that the panel's vote last December that endorsed the proposed Blackwater West military training camp be reversed.

Opponents said they fear noise and traffic in the Campo, Boulevard and Jacumba areas, which is brushfire-prone and lightly populated. Others oppose the company's role in the Iraq war.

Local backers of the project are defiant, the Union-Tribune reported.

"If you want to vote me out, do it," said committee member Jerry Johnson.

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