Coastal panel weighs in on bombing proposal
(Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service - March 8, 2001)

MONTEREY, Calif. -- The California Coastal Commission, which kept the

Marines from landing in Monterey two years ago, has warned the Navy

that allowing jets to bomb Fort Hunter Liggett could harm marine resources

along the coast.

The commission's staff has written a letter to Navy engineers who

are exploring the plan, asking them to consider ordering a full-blown

environmental impact study that would include analyses of alternative

sites for the proposed bombing practice.

In particular, the commission said it is concerned about condors and

eagles that forage in the area; sea otters and other marine mammals

along the nearby shoreline; brown pelicans and sea birds; recreational

use of the coastal trails in the adjacent mountains; and the serenity

that people value on Big Sur beaches and in recreational areas.

Because the bombing runs at Fort Hunter Liggett, which is on the eastern

side of the Santa Lucia coastal range, would impact the coastal zone,

the Navy needs to see if they would be consistent with the state'

s coastal management program, said the letter signed by Mark Delaplaine,

the Coastal Commission's federal consistency supervisor.

The commission's concerns will at least force the Navy to consult

with state officials, Delaplaine said Tuesday.

But the Navy is free to disagree with the Coastal Commission's conclusions,

he said. If that turns out to be the case, the state is then free

to sue the Navy.

Coastal Commission concerns about what hovercraft might do to whales

and marine mammals in Monterey Bay and to snowy plover nests on the

beach kept the Marines from making a planned landing in Monterey in

March 1999. Instead, the military used helicopters to fly troops from

ships anchored at sea to the Monterey Peninsula Airport.

Troops then rode buses to the Naval Postgraduate School and the Presidio

of Monterey for the war games.

Concerns about the bombing runs have surfaced in a growing chorus

of opposition that has included the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

manager urging the Navy to abandon plans to fly some of the bombers

from aircraft carriers; Sen. Dianne Feinstein warning the secretary

of defense that the bombing runs "could cause irreparable harm to

the wilderness areas and would undermine previous efforts to preserve

this scenic area"; and Sen. Barbara Boxer asking the Navy for a full

environmental study.

Actor Robert Redford, a frequent visitor to Big Sur, has also announced

opposition to the bombing plan, as has Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, who

had arranged for the National Park Service to explore taking over

the former military testing ranges at Fort Hunter Liggett.

The Navy has proposed making 2,820 bombing runs a year to the base,

flying Hornet fighter jets from Naval Air Station Lemoore near Fresno.

In addition, 135 other runs would come from aircraft carriers off

the coast.

Those jets now fly to China Lake in the California desert or to the

bombing ranges at Fallon Naval Air Station in Nevada for practice.

The Navy says the shorter trips to Fort Hunter Liggett would save

an estimated $3 million a year in fuel costs.

The planes, many of them flying as low as 500 feet, would drop nonexploding

bombs on a practice range.

The 165,000-acre base in South County hasn't been used for significant

aerial target practice since World War II. In more recent years it'

s become a central range for American bald eagles and California condors

that are being reintroduced to the wild.

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