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The San Luis Obispo Tribune

Bombs Away At Hunter Liggett

Our view: Power of the people to petition gov't pays off

November 17, 2001
Copyright © 2001
The San Luis Obispo Tribune. All Rights Reserved.

To the collective relief of thousands of Central Coast residents who took the time to let their thoughts be known, the Navy has decided not to increase its bombing runs at Fort Hunter Liggett -- at least for now.

The 146,000-acre military post located about 45 miles northeast of Paso Robles was to become the recipient of some 3,000 dummy-bomb sorties each year as a training exercise for aviators stationed at Lemoore Naval Air Station. The Navy said the plan would have saved about $3 million in fuel each year. Opponents said an average of eight flights a day over Big Sur and the Ventana Wilderness -- with its attendant endangered condors and herd of tule elk --was unacceptable.

It was a hard sell for the Navy from the get-go. Residents and city governments from as far away as San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay registered their protest to the plan. Reps. Lois Capps and Sam Farr voiced their vehement opposition. The state's two senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, weighed in against the plan. Monks at Lucia's New Camaldoli Hermitage said the flights would ruin the serenity and tranquility they depend upon for spiritual reflection. Native American members of the Salinan Nation decried the potential for desecration of ancestral grounds that would have been in the path of the bombing runs.

In the face of such opposition, the Navy wisely decided to pursue an in-depth environmental impact report that it hoped would satisfy each of the concerns identified by the public. That report was due out next year.

Those plans will be shelved now. The Navy decided that the Hunter Liggett fuel savings weren't going to be as great as once thought.

On the surface that may be the reason. But Rep. Farr said he was told that the Navy is rethinking its training program in light of the protests over bomber training at Vieques , Puerto Rico , and that simulators and other technology could be used instead.

In the final tally, though, we believe it was the public's impassioned stance on the issue that changed the Navy's mind.

As Farr said, "Certainly this is a tribute that petitioning the government works. It's the people victory, a win for the local and California public." Amen.


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