Published Friday, March 2, 2001, in the San Jose
MAYBE it's a little hard to hear Californians' voices
over the roar of jet engines, so we'll say this slowly
No bombers over Big Sur.
Are you listening, Navy?
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
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
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
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.