San Diego Union-Tribune

A-3

23-Feb-2001 Friday 

Critics fault plan to increase use of bombing range near sensitive sites 

OTTO KREISHER 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON -- Navy plans to sharply increase use of a bombing range near scenic Big Sur and historic San Simeon have triggered a public outcry.

A planned 10-fold increase in use of the target area within the Fort Hunter
Liggett Army post, about 50 miles south of Monterey, has drawn protests
from environmentalists, residents and their congressman.

The Navy says the increased use of the bombing range will reduce its
operating costs and the time its pilots must be away from home and
families.

Opponents say it would sharply increase the number of military flights
through the Hunter Liggett range, which is bordered on the west and north
by Los Padres National Forest. The surrounding area is home to at least 40
endangered or threatened species of animals and birds, including bald
eagles and California condors, and American Indian sacred sites,
environmentalists say.

Navy attack aircraft based at Lemoore Naval Air Station, near Hanford, have
used the artillery range area in the large Army reservation for decades,
conducting almost 300 training missions a year. An environmental assessment currently is under way on a plan to increase those practice-bombing missions to nearly 3,000 a year.

Navy F/A-18 Hornet squadrons at Lemoore currently conduct most of their
practice runs at the bombing ranges near the naval air stations at Fallon,
Nev., and China Lake, in Inyo County.

But Fallon is 227 miles from Lemoore, and China Lake is 159 miles, said
Cmdr. Charles Gillman, a staff officer with the Strike-Fighter Wing
Pacific, at Lemoore. Hunter Liggett is only 76 miles away, he said.

Using the closer range would save thousands of hours of flying time and
wear on the aircraft and about $3 million a year in fuel, Gillman said. It
also would reduce the amount of time Lemoore pilots spend away from their
families while preparing for the six-month deployments to the Western
Pacific, he said.

All the training at Hunter Liggett will be done with small practice bombs,
armed only with a shotgun-shell-size smoke charge, Gillman said.

The target area is about 30 miles southeast of the scenic Big Sur coastline
and about 25 miles north of the late William Randolph Hearst's castle at
San Simeon. Both are major tourist attractions.

Critics of the plan and Navy officials are scheduled to square off at a
public hearing in the area tomorrow requested by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel.

Farr understands the Navy's need to conduct this type of training and its
desire to save time and money, said his press aide, Betsy Lordan. But "he
feels this is an inappropriate place for it . . . given the number of
endangered species and cultural treasures in the area," she said.