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What's the rush? 

If you haven’t heard by now, an Australian backed company proposes to drill for oil in the Huasna Valley in Arroyo Grande, which is creating a stir among the locals and some other people.

There’s a group of volunteers, the Huasna Valley Association, who are forthrightly and diplomatically addressing the many issues raised by the project, with the health and safety of the community at heart. If you want additional or more specific information, I recommend checking out their Web site at: www.huasnavalley.org.

I believe that the oil in Huasna is suitable for asphalt but is not practical for refinement into gasoline. Furthermore, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed, why should new drilling for oil be allowed when a huge percentage of already permitted, established well sites in the U.S. are not currently being used? Why be distracted by a fear tactic of ‘we need more’ when any new drilling wouldn’t result in usable oil for nearly a decade anyway? And why not reduce our dependence on foreign oil right now by using the oil we already have? This would immediately reduce oil prices! And last, why not focus on the reality that we need other, more sustainable resources and a shift toward economic use of our resources, rather than our country’s history of blatant, endless consumption? Even President Bush has stated this.

I have questions: As a community, how do we feel about the prospect of ruining one of our last, relatively untouched natural environments in the area? How do we feel about oil drilling by a company whose current capital worth wouldn’t come close to paying for clean-ups if spills occur? At a community meeting on July 31, I noted that twice county representatives said “When there’s a spill” not “If”: Does this concern you as much as it does me? Should we tolerate damage to our roads that the company’s tanker trunks would cause when hauling oil from the site, damage that will ultimately cost taxpayers money to fix? What about the loss of tourists and the loss of revenue they generate that Arroyo Grande would suffer, and what about the serious risks to our limited water and to our agricultural resources: Who will pick up the pieces when these oil people have made their money, are gone, and our county is left in a shambles?

To critics who would complain that opponents of the project are merely saying “Not in my backyard” I ask, how would you feel about lights, generator noise, and stench coming through your bedroom windows 24/7 for the next 20 years? There’s a construction project in Atascadero making big news lately because of the noise nuisance to the community. Atascadero is lucky; it’s only for a few months.

Finally, I’d like to echo the repeated question to our politicians I heard voiced at the aforementioned meeting last week: What’s the rush? Why was this project, already almost two years in the works, first shared with us only two months ago, when we were told it was nearly a done deal set to start in October? Why would the county and some departments of the city of Arroyo Grande, sign off on this project, referencing outdated, and in some cases inaccurate information? Maybe that’s why they can claim that all the issues can be mitigated. How can they tell us that all these issues can be easily mitigated and do not warrant further in-depth study, when peoples’ lives, livelihoods, property values, and way of life are in jeopardy?

Again, to our politicians and decision makers in the city of Arroyo Grande and the county of San Luis Obispo, I echo the sentiments I heard at the meeting: There is too much at stake here, slow down, this needs to be examined more closely. SLOW DOWN. A proper, current, complete, and accurate environmental impact report needs to be done to thoroughly investigate hazards. The county should also create a comprehensive energy plan to set parameters, standards, and guidelines for any proposed drilling, to prevent any hazards to our beloved area and it’s residents, before any permits are approved.

Such a plan would help us avoid disasters and any favoritism toward special interests.

Trish Norman resides in Huasna Valley.

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