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Reuters English News Service

U.S. Navy Shelves Big Sur Bombing Practice Plan

November 16, 2001
Copyright © 2001
Reuters Limited 2001 . All Rights Reserved.

SAN FRANCISCO - The U.S. Navy has shelved a controversial plan to increase bombing practice near California's rugged Big Sur coast, which opponents said would threaten the area's wildlife and natural beauty, a Navy spokesman said on Friday.

Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Gordon, a spokesman for the Pacific Fleet based in Pearl Harbor, said the Navy on Thursday dropped the proposal unveiled in January to increase sorties using nonexplosive bombs at Fort Hunter Liggett, some 150 miles (240 km) south of San Francisco.

The plan called for F-18 Hornet fighter jets based at a nearby naval station and on aircraft carriers along the coastline to boost training sorties 10-fold to some 3,000 a year at the range in an effort to save fuel costs.

"The Navy is going to continue to review the process to see if we need to increase the use of the range," Gordon said in a telephone interview. "Right now we are going to keep it at 300."

Gordon did not say exactly why the Navy decided to shelve the plan, adding existing ranges farther away in the Central Valley and California desert would continue to be used for training runs.

But opponents ranging from politicians to environmental groups feared more sorties would increase the risk of forest fires in the popular tourist area and threaten wildlife such as endangered condors and bald eagles.

"I understand that the Navy needs to train its fighter pilots," U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, who led the opposition, told the San Jose Mercury News. "But this is simply not the place for it. This is a place where people come to find tranquillity and beauty."

The decision to drop the plan also comes as the U.S. military faces intense public pressure to halt war games on the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques where inhabitants say the bombing training harms the environment and damages resident's health.

But Navy spokesman Gordon noted it was essential for the military to have places to train, saying many of the pilots now on combat missions in Afghanistan conducted practice bombing runs at Fort Hunter Liggett.

"The use of training ranges is one of the biggest challenges the Navy faces today," Gordon said. "Our experiences in Afghanistan now show we have certainly a continuous need for combat training."

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