Whoever wins the race for the 4th District county supervisor seat will help decide the future outcome of several oil-related projects in the South County.
With that in mind, some Huasna Valley residents recently asked the three candidates — appointed incumbent Caren Ray, Nipomo businesswoman Lynn Compton, and Arroyo Grande real estate broker Mike Byrd — to state their positions on oil drilling in the South County.
“Our community has fought hard to keep the Huasna Valley and the corridor of Huasna Road free from further oil production,” the Huasna Valley Association said in an email to the candidates earlier this month.
While the length and details of their responses varied, each candidate expressed concerns about potential truck traffic on Huasna Road east of Arroyo Grande. The responses have been posted on the Huasna Valley Association’s website.
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The three contenders are running in the June 3 primary. If no one gets a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 4 general election.
Meanwhile, the county’s planning staff is still waiting to receive additional information from an applicant seeking to drill and test up to four exploratory oil and gas wells on the Porter Ranch. The ranch is located north of Highway 166, accessible off Alamo Creek Road near the remote Huasna Valley.
As the crow flies, the property is about six miles southeast of where oil exploration company Excelaron failed to get the county’s permission to drill as many as 12 oil wells in the Huasna Valley. The fate of a lawsuit in that case will be heard by the 2nd District Court of Appeal next week.
In February, county planners asked Bakersfield businessman Dero Parker for more information on his Porter Ranch proposal, giving him 90 days to respond to 24 questions. Parker recently asked for an extension to June 4, senior environmental planner John McKenzie said.
Parker is proposing temporary drilling within a 12-month period, but some Huasna Valley residents are concerned about long-term impacts to the valley should Parker want to start a permanent operation on the Porter property.
“The current application with the county for oil drilling on the Porter Ranch has our neighborhood concerned, that if approved, other oil production will follow including a revisiting of the Mankins/Excelaron project,” the email sent to the candidates said.
It also states: “As you may know, early oil production in this area was performed when just a few families owned the majority of the surrounding region — now, hundreds of families live, work, and thrive in the Huasna Valley and Huasna Corridor areas.”
Byrd submitted the most succinct response to the Huasna Valley Association’s question.
“I wouldn’t necessarily rule out oil production everywhere in the South County, but I can state unequivocally that I would oppose any vacuum or rig trucks traversing Huasna Townsite or Huasna Roads and I would look skeptically at any industrial use of groundwater in the region,” he wrote.
“I’m not certain if there might be other appropriate regions for oil exploration, but Huasna Valley certainly isn’t one.”
Compton wrote that she believes every property owner who desires to develop his land should get his “day in court,” with an unbiased evaluation by county staff. However, she added, if a majority of constituents affected by a project don’t want it to go forward, the supervisor has a responsibility to vote against it.
“Whether I personally agree with my constituents, or not, doesn’t matter,” she said. “This job isn’t about what I personally want, but what the constituents who are affected by board decisions in the Fourth District want.”
“With that being said,” she added, “I do believe most citizens want their potentially elected officials to take a non-biased look at each and every proposed project (oil or otherwise), and evaluate all sides fairly and judiciously, before issuing a preliminary judgment based on an incomplete set of facts.”
Compton said it wasn’t appropriate for her to say how she would vote on the Porter Ranch proposal, but she did sympathize with residents’ concerns about the use of local roads for oil projects.
Ray wrote that she has a deep concern about this issue, “as it threatens to affect the very character of our whole district.”
In regard to Huasna Valley, Ray said she’s unlikely to support any project that includes truck traffic on Huasna Road; any potential for polluting drinking water; excessive use of water; noise that would disturb the rural character of the area; or other forms of disturbance that would adversely affect the valley.
However, she added, “Drilling for oil is, in itself, not a reason to summarily reject a project.”
A project’s impacts would have to be closely examined, she wrote, and the applicant given an opportunity to show that he or she could mitigate any impacts.
Ray noted that she was a member of the Arroyo Grande City Council when the Excelaron project was before county supervisors. Though she didn’t participate in that decision-making process, Ray — along with the rest of the Arroyo Grande council — voted to write a letter to the supervisors opposing the project.