Backcountry Identity and the Proposed Sunrise Powerlink Project

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This thesis examines a segment of the modern American population residing in northern eastern San Diego County. This area, sometimes referred to as “the backcountry,” although relatively close to the urban and suburban areas of San Diego County, is difficult to access due to narrow and winding two-lane roads. Possibly residents of this rural area have constructed senses of identity and place that differ from those of city and suburban residents. These particular senses of identity and place may have been heightened by a 2005 proposal to construct a major electrical power line known as the “Sunrise Powerlink” through the area. This power line’s proposed route involved significant use of public lands as well as parklands. Resistance to construction was high among local residents as well as larger organizations such as conservation and utility watchdog organizations. The prospect of the power line presented an opportunity for local residents to examine and voice issues surrounding their place, values and identity, regardless of their level of involvement in the debate.This thesis describes the history of the proposed power line as well as the history of the area surveyed. It presents the results of twenty-one interviews of residents in mid- to late 2008. These interviewees were opponents of the Powerlink but the level of participation in public protest varied substantially. These interviews, as well as written discourse on the subject of the Powerlink, reveal the bodily experience of place these residents revealed as well as the sense of authenticity their place held for them. Issues of the appropriate use of space are also analyzed, as is the constructed meaning of the term “backcountry.” Although the interviewees emphasized the diversity of residents of this area, common themes and values were revealed, as was the collective identity and narrative that formed around the opposition.