Read our lips: No bombers over Big Sur

Published Friday, March 2, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News


Bombs, go away


MAYBE it's a little hard to hear Californians' voices over the roar of jet engines, so we'll say this slowly and clearly:

No bombers over Big Sur.

Are you listening, Navy?

Probably not.

The Navy didn't want to hear from Californians at all when it first planned to use Fort Hunter Liggett in southern Monterey County as a practice bombing range. Navy officials kept a low profile when they began planning training flights from the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, near Fresno. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, wasn't told. Nor were many other obvious interested parties.

The public comment period was almost over when most people learned of the plan ... by accident.


Then there was the Navy's initial description of its plan: 900 flights a year. Doesn't sound too bad. Ah, but what's the definition of ``flight?''

Turns out a ``flight'' means three aircraft at a time, not one. Total overflights in a year would be nearly 3,000. Furthermore, some would be at night, and some would originate on aircraft carriers off the coast.

At a hearing in King City last week, the Navy tried hard to downplay the harm of having a bombing range next to one of the nation's most pristine wilderness areas. They promised an environmental assessment to look at all effects, including noise, and insisted that planes cruising at 22,000 feet wouldn't be noticed.

But the planes would come down to as low as 500 feet to drop their dummy bombs. After a tour of the bombing range site and exposure to the noise of F/A-18 Hornets flying overhead, Farr repeated his solid opposition to the proposal.

What sense does it make, he asked later, for Congress to create parks and wilderness areas, set up condor and bald eagle sanctuaries and otherwise try to protect the central coast's legendary beauty and solitude if it's going to allow fighter jets to zip through with their eardrum-busting climb-outs?

The Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nev., which is pushing for the Fort Hunter Liggett bombing site, would prefer to keep quiet about some of the problems there. Jets crash. Pilots eject. Aircraft have dumped fuel over rural areas and accidentally strafed telephone pole workers. The Navy there quietly has claimed ever greater amounts of land and air space for military use.

The Navy already has wrecked vast tracts of land in central Nevada and Southern California, using them for bombing practice for decades; it doesn't need to threaten a natural treasure.

Farr is skeptical about the Navy's willingness to listen to Californians. `

`They feel the end justifies the means,'' he told us after the King City hearing. He fears Naval officials will use the environmental assessment process not to determine if there would be harm but to justify their plan.

We think he's right, and we're grateful for his leadership in this fight. Californians should unite with him in protest, and protest loudly. They should be joined by other Americans who care about the environment, whether for its beauty or for its scientific value.

Where are Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein? Farr has asked them to join the effort. The sooner the better. Big Sur is a national treasure. Our senators should be leading this fight in Washington.

Perhaps the message will be easier to hear from there. Meanwhile, let's try this again.

Read our lips: No bombers over Big Sur.

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