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Military Training Focuses On Land Use…Area Bases `Very Strong'

Military Training Focuses On Land Use

Sheila Ingram

March 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Pensacola News Journal. All rights reserved.

When battle groups begin training in the Gulf of Mexico after a military base in Puerto Rico shuts down, the jets over Pensacola will be bigger and noisier.

Escambia Commissioner Bill Dickson said the move to give the Panhandle a greater role in battle training exercises only intensifies the urgency of preserving land around military installations.

Escambia County and military planners formally launched a Joint Land Use Study of areas near Pensacola Naval Air Station, Saufley Field and an area west of the intersection of Interstate 10 and Nine Mile Road that Whiting Field uses for helicopter landing training.

Only a handful of local residents showed up for the workshop Wednesday night as thunderstorms passed through the area. Two more workshops are planned for this summer.

The land study is funded by a $67,440 grant from the Department of Defense, plus $27,000 from Escambia County. The Defense Department has determined that the missions of the three areas are threatened by a proliferation of housing developments.

The study is scheduled for completion by Aug. 31. Expected to be in the final report will be recommendations on what local governments can do to ensure that military missions will continue, and that conflicts between land uses and air operations will be minimized.

The county already has identified the high-risk crash potential zones and passed noise and real estate disclosure ordinances for areas near the bases.

Possible recommendations from this study will be to revise zoning plans and developmental regulations, revise the comprehensive land plan and limit development in sensitive areas.

Cmdr. Chris Magrino, operations officer at NAS, said activity already has picked up at the base.

``We're gearing up for major exercises,'' he said. ``We'll have the full spectrum of Naval power in this region.''

The county has purchased some environmentally sensitive land in the Perdido Pitcher Plant Prairie, which provides a buffer to NAS, but that is only one option.

``We'll have to do it through zoning efforts,'' Dickson said.

The study will be conducted by EDAW Inc. of Atlanta.

Donna and Bob Hoffbauer said the area needs to do whatever possible to keep the base in Pensacola. The couple reside near Blue Angel Parkway and U.S. 98.

``The Navy needs a place to do their training,'' Bob Hoffbauer said. ``Vieques (Puerto Rico) is gone, and the next stop is Pensacola.''

Navy Leader: Area Bases `Very Strong'

Kimberly Blair

March 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Pensacola News Journal. All rights reserved.

After touring training facilities in the Pensacola Bay Area, acting Secretary of the Navy Hansford T. ``H.T.'' Johnson said Wednesday the area's three bases look strong for the next round of base realignment and closure hearings scheduled for 2005.

``We are very careful to not talk bases until we decide what it is we need and what we have,'' he said. ``But Pensacola is a very strong area.''

Johnson said in the next round of closures, a key determination will be whether different branches of the military can combine training or operations to jointly use base facilities.

``We will look at activities at a location and look at how other services can use those facilities,'' he said. ``It will be a very straightforward approach.''

Johnson was impressed with the Navy and Marine Corps training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Corry Station and Whiting Field. He pointed to the Chief of Naval Education and Training Command, headquartered at Pensacola, as key in the transformation of Navy training now under way.

Johnson said Florida's military bases will be ``big supporters'' of the Atlantic Naval Fleet's training, which has been shifted from Vieques, Puerto Rico, to bases all along the Eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico. He did not elaborate on how that training might impact the Pensacola bases.

``Florida is going to lean forward to give us many opportunities,'' he said. ``The existing training ranges will be used more. The only new thing we are doing is the Amphibious Marine Training at Eglin Air Force Base. Everything else is just expansion of the already existing training ranges.''

Johnson's low-key visit was not open to the media or the public because Johnson said in his newly appointed role, he needed to focus on familiarizing himself with Navy and Marine bases in the Southeast. Before Pensacola, Johnson visited bases in North Carolina and Georgia. He will return to Washington after visiting Navy facilities in Key West.

Johnson took over the top Naval administration position on Feb. 7, when Susan Morrisey Livingstone stepped down.

Vice Adm. Alfred Harms, chief of the Naval Education and Training Command, said Johnson made a special effort every place he stopped to talk to the young men and women going through training.

"He was very impressed with classrooms and students and instructors he saw at the Naval Education Training Center and at Corry,'' Harms said. ``He expressed again and again that he is always impressed with the professionalism of these young men and women who volunteered to join the team.''

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