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Navy Expansion Proposed Along Silver Strand

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The Navy wants to expand its training operations at the Silver Strand Training Complex. How will the expansion of naval operations along the Silver Strand effect the area's ecosystem, and the residents who live nearby?

ALLISON ST JOHN (Host): And you’re back on the Editors Roundtable with me, Alison St John, sitting in for Gloria Penner. And we also have around the table this morning David Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat, John Warren, editor and publisher of San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, and David Ogul, assistant metro editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. So we’re going to continue talking about something which still relates very much to the economy and perhaps one of the reasons San Diego is not doing quite as badly as some areas of the state. The military is expanding in this area and part of that has been the Navy is now asking for public comment on its plans to expand training exercises at the Silver Strand, that’s that thin strip of land that runs between Coronado and Imperial Beach. So, David, David Ogul, let’s just start you to begin this. Why does the Navy want to expand the training along the Silver Strand?

DAVID OGUL (Assistant Metro Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, actually it’s pretty simple. We’re fighting two wars right now. I guess that’s the main reason. Also, in the last several years, the Marine Corps has had its numbers increase from about 175,000 troops to more than 200,000 and many of those people, if not most, do some training at the Silver Strand Training Complex. In addition, the Navy Special Warfare units, the SEALs and what have you, are doing some increased training. The Navy says that Silver Strand is vital because there’s so – it’s sort of a very convenient location, it’s – for the Navy. It’s – And because of its proximity to so many bases, not the least of which is Naval Air Station North Island, and I hope I said that right. So that’s the reason why they’re doing – What they’re looking at is their preferred alternatives. There’s three alternatives. Their preferred alternative is to go from about 3900 activities to more than 5500, actually almost 5600 annually. Their helicopter flights would increase from about 778 annually to more than 2200, and their firearm discharges would go from about 150 to about 1400 and then, not the least of which of the impacts is their underwater demolition would increase significantly so…

ST JOHN: Underwater demolition?

OGUL: Well, it’s their mine…

ST JOHN: Countermeasure.

OGUL: Right. Mine-sweeping countermeasures would increase significantly.

ST JOHN: Okay. Yeah, we haven’t heard that much about that. And, of course, that might affect underwater mammals, but perhaps a lot of extra noise. And the Navy is asking for public comment about this so we are also open for your calls. You can give us a call at 888-895-5727, that’s 888-895-KPBS. So this is something which is going to be affecting, I understand, the birds along the beach there who nest on the beach. Tell us a little bit about how the Navy is planning to mitigate and what kind of impact is it going to have?

OGUL: Well, it’s interesting going through the Environmental Impact Statement that the Navy has put out. Granted, it’s a preliminary one. But the impacts, according to the Navy, are not significant and, God, I hate to use this word—I always tell my reporters never use mitigable—but the Navy says that they are mitigable so, in other words, they could take care of it. It’s not a problem. It’s almost like the, you know, the old comedies, yeah, there’s nothing going on over here, just move on, move on. And that’s really how, when you’re reading the report, it almost comes across as. The birds that would be affected is the snowy plover, the California Least Terns, two of my favorite birds, and, you know, what – But one thing I really have to point out is in 1983, the Navy worked with U.S. Wildlife, or was it Fish & Game, one of the federal agencies, and many federal agencies that have some sort of say in this whole process. And there were only 63 or 64 Least Tern nests and they put aside about 75 acres, they restricted training to six months out of the year in certain areas, that they – in which they train on this base, and that number has now gone up to about 1400 or 1500, at least according to the Environmental Impact Statement that was put out. And so, you know, the Navy does deserve – Again, I’m playing both sides here…

ST JOHN: Umm.

OGUL: …deserves some credit in, you know, in being a steward of the environment.

ST JOHN: However, speaking with Jim Peugh of the Audubon Society, he mentions that even though the number of nesting sites have gone up, the actual amount of breeding of Least Terns has really plummeted and I can imagine it wouldn’t be a very hospitable place to nest with the noise.

OGUL: With all that noise going on, you know, it’s kind of tough.

ST JOHN: Right. Dave.

DAVID ROLLAND (Editor, San Diego CityBeat): You know, I was going to say that, I mean, I’ve been doing coastal reporting in California since 1993. And, you know, I know the western snowy plover and the California Least Tern very well because, you know, anybody who wants to do any kind of project in the coastal zone has to deal with those two birds. You know, it’s nice to know that the federal government and the military aren’t exempt from having to deal with them. You know, these birds are very, very small, especially the – I think it’s the plover that – very, very tiny little black and white bird. And the way they would – The way I understand it, the way they would be impacted is that there are about ten boating lanes on the ocean side of Silver Strand, kind of in the middle of the Strand there between Coronado and Imperial Beach and there are three particular lanes where right now there are certain times of the year – I don’t have it in front of me but I think it’s like April to September, where they can’t do anything in those lanes because of those nesting sites. And I believe their preferred alternative is to be able to use those lanes year round. You know, and you mentioned Jim Peugh, of the Audubon Society, you know, he’s concerned because they’ve – I – As you say, they’ve had some really good success with nesting sites there and whereas other places have not been so successful in turning those populations around.

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.

ROLLAND: They have been successful there and I think he’s concerned about, you know, halting that progress.

ST JOHN: Okay. Yeah, John.

JOHN WARREN (Editor/Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): You know, I can’t help but laugh because it seems like the birds have better representation than the people.

ST JOHN: Yeah.

WARREN: I mean, a bird, they don’t have…

ROLLAND: They have better lobbyists.

WARREN: Yeah, they don’t have to – you know, their lobbyists are there, they don’t say a word. But I think…

ST JOHN: Well, what did you think about the turnout at the two hearings in Imperial Beach and Coronado? Just a few dozen people there.

WARREN: Well, I think a couple of things. First of all, the people who live on Coronado understand the nature of where they live. They know the military and they know the presence and they know that that’s the price of being there. I mean, many people have lived with the myth that if we had a war the Navy could push a button and blow up the Strand and just let ships go out that way. So…

OGUL: You mean that’s not true?

WARREN: I’m saying it’s a myth, you know. It probably is wired. What I found interesting was the way the hearings were held. I mean, they were held back to back and so matter of factly and usually when you have hearings that involve Environmental Impact Studies, you know, there’s some space in between because people might speak at one meeting and then they have a chance to go back and regroup. But the city fathers are very guarded in their comments and everyone is, so it’s like, you know, this is just a done deal, we’re going through the formality and probably only the people who use the beach might be impacted when time comes to do more ship to shore drills.

ST JOHN: Well, I understand that the people at Imperial Beach were quite concerned. I mean, if you look at the numbers that David was just citing, firearm use going up from 150 to 1400, it’s almost ten times as much in terms of, what, gunfire on the beach. Helicopter use tripling almost. I mean, there is going to be an impact on the noise level of people who live down there. And do you think it is a done deal, David?

OGUL: I – I’m not going to venture a guess on that. But the Navy is the one that’s doing the environmentals report and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy is the one that’s going to decide what alternative will be used. Now they will have to deal with the myriad federal and state agencies as far as the environmental impacts. But I did want to say one thing about as our story in the Union-Tribune pointed out today and also the one the other day, but a lot of the opposition is coming from Coronado. At a hearing that they had, a public hearing that they had on, I believe it was Wednesday night in Coronado, nobody spoke in favor of it. And, you know, you might think that, you know, Coronado, you know, being a military town, a lot of retired military people over there, but, you know, the only person who really spoke out in favor of the – of what was going on was from Imperial Beach. It was a retired Marine from Imperial Beach who said, you know, if you lose one bird or one fairy shrimp, so be it. You know, but to protect our troops is more important.

ST JOHN: So this is a chance for you, our listeners, to also chime in at this point. You know, it’s a delicate balance here we’re looking at as we appreciate having the extra economic stimulus of the military in the community and at the same time there are impacts on our quality of life. What do you think about this? 1-888-895-5727, that’s 888-895-KPBS. Another question that struck me was would this perhaps have an effect on the traffic across Coronado Bay Bridge? I mean, if there’s going to be more training there that bridge is already a bit of a thin link in the chain.

WARREN: Well, I think we ought to…

ST JOHN: John.

WARREN: …remember that the training increase you’re talking about is not all at once. This training is going to be spread out over a period of time but because in its totality it’s a significant increase, they’re coming up with it. So I don’t think immediately you’re going to feel it. I don’t see it affecting the bridge because the people who come from Imperial Beach don’t necessarily go around to 5 and come across the bridge. If anything, you’d have some people coming from Coronado to the Strand instead of going over the bridge. So I don’t think that’s going to be a big issue but I just think that it’s the idea that this is going to happen and under the Naval Environmental Protection Act, I believe it is, they’re required to go through this process since it represents a change in the status quo. And I think that’s the way they’re approaching it. There’s going to be this degree of increase but we’re going to spread it out.

ST JOHN: Okay. I mean, I’m just thinking about other hearings that have happened in connection with, you know, Navy plans in the region and there’s been a lot of controversy over the waterfront there, the Navy Broadway complex, a lot of people coming and making noise. And whether it’s that or the economy, it’s hard to say, that’s had an effect on that project and has delayed it. But do you think that what people have to say about this project could actually make a difference? John, you were talking about three alternatives. There are three alternatives. Might public testimony make a difference?

WARREN: I don’t think so. I think that while we’re going through this process, we expect some people to protest, like the homeowners on the Coronado side, but I think at the end of the day it’s pretty much expected to take place, and that’s much different than the problem we have with the Navy downtown on Embarcadero where we’ve been at odds over what’s going to happen in terms of building and how are we going to do it, and do they keep the land, what – I think that’s a whole different ballgame.

ST JOHN: Umm.

WARREN: This is so much in the heart of what’s military and its whole mission and function here that I – in the final analysis, I believe it’s still done.

ST JOHN: Dave.

ROLLAND: Well, you mentioned the alternatives. I just happened to notice that among the alternatives was not one where they suggested perhaps not fighting so many elective wars, which would require so many, you know, Navy SEALs to, you know, to have to learn how to get from the – from a ship to the shore.

ST JOHN: But there is an alternative…

ROLLAND: Or maybe just stop having wars in countries that are adjacent to bodies of water perhaps.

ST JOHN: I mean, are there any alternative spots that they could do this training?

OGUL: Not…

ST JOHN: David.

OGUL: Not really. One could argue that there are some. One could argue that you could go up to Camp Pendleton but as I stated earlier and as our stories have stated, the – there – this is centrally located and the – with – in relation to the many other bases that the Navy operates in the southwest region. And, you know, one of the things that the Navy says that they try to do is to try to keep people at home as much as they can and so when they’re not fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever we may be, it’s – you know, they want to keep them close to this area rather than ship them off to, you know, Maine or, you know, somewhere else where they might be able to do it.

ST JOHN: 888-895-5727 is our number here and Diane from Jamul is on the line. Diane, thanks so much for calling us. What’s your comment?

DIANE (Caller, Jamul): Hi. I’m just very concerned to hear that this term ‘done deal’ is being thrown out because there’s such a small – supposed small group of people impacted in addition to all the numerous birds. We camp at the Strand every summer and last August my mom and dad and I were walking in the wet sand along that thin stretch where the snowy plover nests and we were approached and made to leave the area and, honestly, we weren’t even on the dry sand, we were just three people walking and so I’m curious what has changed so dramatically that now, you know, beach warfare is okay and a hike by three people walking in the wet sand was not.

ST JOHN: Well, Diane, thank you for that question. We’ve got a few smiles around the table here. David wants to take that question.

OGUL: I could understand and empathize with you. I often go jogging down in Coronado. I’m training for my marathons. And I have been stopped with men with machine guns and they were not working for the Arellano-Felix cartel. So I don’t really think what you encountered was new. The fact is, though, that the Silver Strand State Beach is sandwiched on the north side and the south side by the Silver Strand Training Complex and, yeah.

ST JOHN: Yeah, so it’s…

ROLLAND: Well…

ST JOHN: …not – I would think there have been some changes, though, in the last year decisions have been made at the federal level to bring 10% of the Navy’s resources over to the west coast. So, you know, there are definite changes happening before our eyes here. Dave.

ROLLAND: Well, I was also going to say that our caller probably can’t make the case that she is protecting national security by taking her stroll on the beach and I – I’m – that’s a flip comment but the point is, it’s a lot easier to get things done and ram things through if you can use that, even if it’s not necessarily true.

ST JOHN: Okay, yeah. And, by the way, when I said 10%, I meant 10% more, so that it’s expanding the force over this side of the country.

WARREN: Well, we know…

ST JOHN: John.

WARREN: We know there’s an inconvenience in terms of people using the beaches but this is the price of the conditions in which we live. If we go north to Camp Pendleton, you can see from 5 many of these exercise with the landing crafts and the helicopters and the whole bit. And if we’re sending and deploying more troops and training has increased, this is just one of the prices we pay as citizens in a democracy. And so it’s unfortunate but I think it’s real, and in the final analysis people will accept that it’s not too high a price for what we want.

ST JOHN: Let’s take another call. Peter is calling us from San Diego. Peter, thanks so much. What’s your point?

PETER (Caller, San Diego): Well, my comment, I’m kind of in agreement with the last couple of statements. There’s been some discussion about how the noise from the helicopters and the marksmanship training is inconvenient for local residents and I think it’s a heck of a lot more inconvenient for the sailors and Marines to be expected to deploy overseas and put their lives on the line and that deserves a heck of a lot more consideration. And thanks for taking my comment.

ST JOHN: Yes, Peter, thanks for that. And Dave in La Jolla is also on the line with his opinion on this. Dave, go ahead.

DAVE (Caller, La Jolla): Thank you for taking my call. Yeah, I tend to agree with the last few comments. If you look at – I mean, I’m not pro-military whatsoever. Unfortunately, we haven’t evolved past that point yet. But when you drive north, the only thing that’s different between San Diego expanding in Orange County is you have Camp Pendleton in the middle there and it’s the only stretch of coast around that even resembles pristine coastland. And if you make it so that the military doesn’t want to use these areas, they’re going to vacate and then the developers come in which, yes, it means jobs but then when that’s all done then you have this huge mess and I think that – I hope that the issues could be worked out with the military and that we could keep them there. I don’t know if a possibility of developers coming in is even an issue but I know that if the military left those areas, that’s what would happen with all the cities getting rid of their parklands and everything.

ST JOHN: Dave, thanks very much for that point of view. And we have David Ogul here who wants to respond.

OGUL: I just wanted to say one thing that’s really important is the public comment on this and the Navy says they’ll listen to all comments, and incorporate all comments in their final Environmental Impact Statement. Public comments are being taken until March 9th. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring the address in which to send it to but if you Google Silver Strand Training Complex, you’ll see an address, if you want to put it in the old-fashioned way, you know, snail mail, to send it to at the Navy Headquarters Southwest, or if you want to send an e-mail. And so, really, anybody who is concerned about this either way really should, by March 9th, submit their comments to the Navy.

ST JOHN: Okay, just before the break, let’s see if we can get in one more call. Mitch in San Carlos is on the line. Mitch, go ahead.

MITCH (Caller, San Carlos): I’m from northern California where these things go down a whole lot differently. There’s the dominant theme, the dominant tone of your show and of the people calling in is, oh, well, what’re you going to do?

ST JOHN: Umm-hmm.

MITCH: I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. 25 years ago, the town where I did my shopping and lived near and still do was a town of 5000 people. And when the federal government wanted to come in to drill for oil, we stopped them cold. And now the Navy is up there trying to – they want test more underwater demolition stuff, which is going to be multiplied by a factor of a large number here. I had the experience of seeing an 82-foot blue whale dead in one of the coves up there this summer because it had been hit by a survey ship. This was industry, not the military up there…

ST JOHN: So – so…

MITCH: …making grievous mistakes. The kind of increases that you detailed at the start of this show would have people coming out of their houses in droves and it wouldn’t happen. And the idea – And I heard one of your guests say perhaps it’d be better if we didn’t have so many elective wars and that’s…

ST JOHN: That, of course, is the big, underlying issue, underlying all of this. And, Mitch, I want to thank you for your perspective. Sometimes it’s really good to hear from someone from another area. A little bit of a cautionary note there to end this segment on. But stay with us here on the Editors Roundtable. We’ll be right back to talk about what’s going on at UCSD.

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