Planners seek ouster of wind farm's project manager
A column written for East County Magazine
By Billie Jo Jannen
April 16, 2011 (Boulevard)--The manager of Enel Green Power Jewel Valley made the claim that the Boulevard Planning Group scares her--and that she’s not going back without law enforcement protection.
“We plan not to attend future meetings unless we are assured that law enforcement or security personnel will be present to maintain the safety and security of attendees,” wrote Enel Project Manager Jennifer Purczynski in a March 7 letter to the County’s Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU). Purczynski alleged that she was threatened and “subjected to disrespectful, foul comments from other attendees.”
The meeting tapes, however, tell a different story, according to planning group members who unanimously approved a strong letter to DPLU in response to Purczynski’s allegations. In the letter, they requested that Purczynski and communications consultant Chris Wahl of Southwest Strategies be removed from the project. (Southwest Strategies is a public relations firm that boasts of its ability to overcome community resistance.)
In the Boulevard planners’ own words: “Ms. Purcyznksi, Mr. Wahl, and Ms Joan Heredia have only attended 2 of our planning group meetings, and one pre-meeting with myself and Mr. Noland, our Vice-Chair,” wrote BPG Chairman Donna Tisdale. “Legitimate questions posed and comments made to your personnel have been met with obviously disapproving facial expressions, body language, and sometimes snide and sharp responses. Mr. Wahl seems … dismissive, disinclined to listen and disrespectful. Ms. Purczynski and Ms. Heredia have also sat in the front row and snickered openly over wording in our agenda and minutes, and public discussion of other projects.”
Tisdale said that a thorough review of meeting tapes showed no threats being made against Purczynski and added that she had also initiated follow-up discussions with local sheriff’s deputies. The latter yielded no record of any complaint being made – something, she pointed out, that would certainly follow a genuine threat of violence.
Since the Enel project -- an industrial wind and solar array to be spread out over Empire and Big Country ranches – will cover an estimated 7,000 acres (an area nearly six times larger than Balboa Park), it hardly seems credible that the project manager should be surprised that the community doesn’t like it. In addition, one can’t help but notice that other proponents seem able to cope with community disapproval without running for cover.
I saw three project proponents at BPG’s April meeting: Jim Whalen, who introduced a campground project for Roughacre Ranch, Kumeyaay Wind manager Duane Yee, who was invited to talk about the now-famous electrical discharge among the wind turbines on Campo Reservation, and Cameron Durckel, who appears to attend all the meetings to report on SDG&E projects in the area.
These proponents’ conduct was calm and respectful, and while Whalen and Tisdale publicly acknowledged that they come from opposite sides of the spectrum on rural projects, the dialogue between them was without rancor. Durckel came in for some negative comments from community members, due to the magnitude and longevity of SDG&E activities in the area. He accepted it, remained cordial and delivered his message like a professional.
I later asked Duane Yee if he felt threatened by the community. His response was immediate: “I absolutely did not feel threatened at all … These are people who live here,” Yee added. “Their concerns and opinions … should be treated with a gentle hand.”
Well said, sir.
Boulevard and Jacumba are slated, literally, to be transformed and their local economies permanently damaged by a slew of industrial generation and transmission projects that will occupy thousands of acres in and around their communities. They are faced with the prospect of an average drop in property values that one appraiser placed at 20 percent, due to the change from rural to industrial uses near their homes.
They have not been offered compensation for their financial losses, nor the loss to their quality of life – the latter being the main reason people live out here to begin with. They are treated as disposable units in the current administration’s energy policy. The planning group and community are united in wanting to fend off the destruction coming to them, unasked, and they are doing so against powerful forces.
Given all this, one wonders why Purczynski – a proponent of one of the largest of those project proposals – apparently believes she should expect handshakes and smiles from the community, while she, according to eyewitnesses, openly mocks the planning group and the community planning process.
Is her fear sincere, or this an edgy new strategy to discredit the opposition? After all, this is the trend at every level of political activity, from Washington D.C. on down. If you can’t defeat someone in the realm of ideas, then the next best thing is to persuade people to dismiss them by portraying them as dangerous hicks who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them,” as President Obama said of his critics, drawing criticism of his own.
Opposition goes with the territory in Purczynski’s line of work. It is part of her job, and an absolute requirement of professionalism, to work with the community in a respectful manner.
There’s an old and well-worn saying that’s as apt today as it was when Harry Truman first observed: “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Perhaps Enel and Southwest Strategies should take that to heart in future staffing decisions.
Billie Jo Jannen has written and edited rural news for 24 years, serves as a member of Rural Economic Action League and does a weekly news and analysis program at KRLY radio in Alpine. She is a longtime resident of Campo, where her children and grandchildren also reside. Reach her via email at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine.