By Kathe Tanner
January 13, 2001
Look up: There could be about 900 supersonic
fighter-jet flights a year roaring over such scenic and
tourist-popular areas as Big Sur, Los Padres National
Forest and Hearst Castle.
A proposed Navy plan would send jets, some at low
altitude, to use a new Fort Hunter Liggett range. The
planes, F/A-18 Hornet fighter-bombers, are the same jets
as those flown by the famed Blue Angels team.
The training flights would take off from a naval air
station in Lemoore, 40 miles south of Fresno, and drop
dummy bombs at the range.
Although the Navy plan is in its early stages, it's
already drawing sharp criticism. Skeptics already include
scientists, environmentalists and Central Coast political
leaders, some of whom are irritated that they weren't
officially notified of the plan.
Critics say the zooming planes would mar the rustic
ambience in the sensitive area between King City and
Hearst Castle, including some of the state's most remote
and rugged coastline. Critics also fear noise from the
jets could harm condors, bald eagles and other rare birds
that have been reintroduced to the region over the past
decade, along with other fragile flora and fauna.
Hunter Liggett is a former tank base that abuts lands
owned by the Hearst Corporation, properties which lead to
Hearst Castle and San Simeon State Historical Monument at
San Simeon, about 25 miles to the south.
In 1995, Congress ordered the base decommissioned.
National Guard and other units regularly train there with
non-explosive ordnance. The base has not had significant
aerial target practice since World War II.
Navy fighter jets from Lemoore train over El Centro,
in the Southern California desert, and over Fallon, Nev.
It is officials at the Fallon base who want to use Fort
Hunter Liggett. Hunter Liggett is only 67 miles from
Lemoore, so flights there would save on fuel and
The southern Big Sur Coast is one of only four areas
in the United States where condors, once on the brink of
extinction, have been released into the wild. Since 1995,
biologists have released 14 birds into the region.
"We're very concerned about it," said Jim Davis,
executive director of the Ventana Wilderness Society,
which supervises releases.
Davis said his group also has released 71 bald eagles
in the area since 1982. Now Lake San Antonio, which
touches the fort, has the second largest migrating
population of bald eagles in California.
Marc Weitzel heads up the condor project at U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service's Hopper Mountain National Wildlife
"There's no doubt the Navy will have to provide a
significant amount of environmental documentation,
especially the plan's potential impact on any listed
species, including the condor," Weitzel said.
Larry Jones, project manager for the Navy's Fallon
base, told the Monterey Herald that Navy planners are
working on an assessment. They will have a draft this
fall, he said, and plan to hold public meetings
At least one federal politician is against the Navy
"I oppose it," Rep. Sam Farr, D-Monterey, told the
Monterey Herald on Wednesday. "I'll use all the resources
I have to show the Navy that this is not the place to do
Navy officials sent out a letter on Nov. 28 to the
U.S. Forest Service, the state Department of Fish and
Game and some nonprofit groups announcing a 45-day
comment period that ends on Monday. Many leaders didn't
"This is in my district," said Farr. "I'm shocked the
Navy didn't let us know." He added that he wants the
comment period extended beyond Monday because of that