Thursday, April 16, 2009

A tough choice for rural residents in San Diego County

A story in today's New York Times tells of a plan by San Diego Gas & Electric to shut off electricity to parts of northeastern San Diego County, California when the fire danger is great. The problem is that utility lines are likely to go down when winds are high, sparking wildfires that are further fed by the wind. Three of eight California wildfires in 2007 were caused by downed power lines, including one that devastated this area. As a consequence of that fire, the second biggest in California history, the utility is facing 126 lawsuits.

The dateline for Jennifer Steinhauer's story is Julian, California, population 1,621, and it repeatedly refers to places like Julian as San Diego County's "back country." Residents fear, however, that the absence of power could worsen the situation should a fire break out because there will be no water to fight it.

Here's my favorite part of the story--bascially background that depicts the conflict between old timers and new comers to the area:
Residents generally do not care for former city dwellers who arrive looking to add bright streetlights, or what they see as the imposition of the will of government or utility companies on their rural ways. “This is an old mining town,” said Michael Hart, publisher of The Julian News. “Once or twice a year we get people who want to citify the backcountry. We had someone show up here once who wanted to make us like Santa Barbara. We ran them out on a rail.”
Steinhaur's story also notes the conflict between residents of the areas who would be affected by the shut downs and the San Diego officials who "hold sway over any number of matters affecting the country's unincorporated rural sections."

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