Comments to the Navy by Chris Lorenc

 

I would like to bring up two specific concerns about the Navy's proposal for a new bombing range in Stony Valley in Fort Hunter Liggett that I feel would need to be addressed in an Environmental Assessment. I know that there are a wide range of botanical, cultural, wilderness, and recreational concerns. What, however, I would like to focus on are:

1. The historical/cultural importance of the Portola expedition's trail route through Stony Valley in 1769. Specifically, too, in reference to the Portola party's encounters with the Salinan people.

2. The importance of spiritual values in the surrounding wilderness -- including, but not limited to, impacts on the spiritual experiences of retreatants at New Camaldoli Hermitage, the Tibetan Buddhist retreat center at the Baldwin Ranch in San Carpoforo, and for various planned retreat experiences in the Ventana Wilderness conducted by teachers like myself.

1.The Portola trail

Arguably the most significant historical event in California history was the Spanish land expedition led by Gaspar de Portola in 1769 in search of Monterey Bay. That event was the archetypal encounter between indigenous and European cultures in this land -- and marks an extraordinary juxtaposition not just between different cultures, but between different consciousnesses. Salinan and Esselen people are making wonderful efforts to recover language, place-names, culture, history that stretches back beyond the encounter with the Spanish. Most of that culture needs to be grounded in the specific place(s), like Stony Valley and other parts of the San Antonio Valley and Santa Lucia mountains, in which that culture developed and thrived. Any further loss or abrogation or intrusion into those places jeopardizes this recovery and harms the spiritual practice that attends it. Too many people have already lost too much. The Navy's bombing proposal is not a sufficient reason to cause even more loss.

The journals kept by members of the Portola expedition are among the most valuable records of the Salinan people that exist. Journals were kept by Portola himself, Pedro Fages, the future governor of Spanish California, engineer Miguel Costanso, and Franciscan Juan Crespi.

Combining those journal accounts with on-the-ground retracing of the Portola route and with archaeological records provides one of the best accesses to that historical and cultural life. The Portola trail route is a very significant historical/cultural value for both Californian and American history that would be negatively impacted by bombing runs and a bombing range, and by the increased inaccessibility of that route for Salinan people and for other scholars/students at large.

The trail also has enormous regional importance. The fact that the Portola expedition was forced by the severity of the Santa Lucia mountains to turn inland at San Carpoforo Creek and cross the Santa Lucia range to the San Antonio Valley and from there to continue up the Salinas Valley to Monterey Bay ended up dictating the mission route (San Antonio, Soledad, Carmel) and continued/preserved the relative isolation and wilderness condition of what we now call Big Sur. "Big Sur" is precisely bounded by the Portola trail route. That route is Big Sur's outline or footprint.

Also, the Portola route between Mission San Antonio through Stony Valley to the Nacimiento River and beyond continued to be an important route for Mission San Antonio enterprises and also for the ranchos that came into being in the post-mission period. The nature of preservation by Hearst and then FHL leaves the topography of the mission and rancho periods potentially wonderfully intact to recreate for Salinans, scholars/students, and the general public a picture of what life was like during these periods.

Legitimate scholarly access to important areas in Fort Hunter Liggett is already unduly restricted. My concern, again, is that a bombing range in Stony Valley will both destroy important cultural and historical sites and also make even more difficult access for important cultural, historical, and botanical work in the area. Since the National Park System is studying the feasibility of including more of Fort Hunter Liggett in its purview, it would be a serious offense to be destroying historical and cultural resources instead of preserving them.

2. Spiritual values in the surrounding Ventana Wilderness.

My second serious concern is the inevitable impacts these bombing runs will have on the quality of religious retreats in the adjacent Ventana Wilderness. As a member of the Four Winds Council, which includes members from Esalen Institute, the Window to the West (Esselens), Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, and New Camaldoli Hermitage, I am very aware of the tremendous value that retreat centers like these provide to the public at large. The bombing runs (even from inland sites, let alone from the offshore/aircraft sites also proposed) would have devastating effects on the solitude and serenity of the wilderness. There are already too many flyovers. Low-flying jets making upwards of a 1000 sorties per year, with possibly about 3,000 jet flights a year, would change the wilderness values of the Ventana to an incredible degree. This will impact the four centers mentioned above, as well as numerous smaller ones such as the Tibetan Buddhist retreat centers at San Carpoforo and the one on Lake Nacimiento. It will also dramatically impact workshops/pilgrimmages conducted in the Ventana Wilderness itself, such as those conducted by Window to the West, Esalen, and Tassajara -- in addition to numerous other programs. Several times a year students from my school's Wilderness Program (here at Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose) conduct our own retreat experiences in the Ventana Wilderness. Stevenson school in Pebble Beach has a vastly more extensive wilderness program itself.

And these examples could be multiplied a hundred fold. They would also apply to every hiker and camper who was looking for those same spiritual values, even if in a less formally structured way.

So my second concern is the tremendous impact that the sound and sight of these jet fighters would have on the spiritual values that so many people seek out in the Ventana Wilderness and its adjacent areas.

Not only will formal retreat centers be significantly impacted, but so will every individual seeking spiritual meaning in the area. And the bombing runs not only will be detrimental in themselves, but they will continue to violate and open the door for future violations and encroachments of the airspace above the Ventana Wilderness by others. Thank you for your attention to my scoping comments.

Sincerely,

Chris Lorenc

New Camaldoli Hermitage, oblate
Four Winds Council, member
Bellarmine College Prep: Wilderness Christian Life
Community, moderator
Ventana Wilderness Alliance, member
Rocky Creek (Palo Colorado Canyon, Big Sur), landowner

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