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The Navy's Expansion Proposal Worries Environmentalist

The Navy's Expansion Proposal Worries Environmentalist
The Navy is proposing an increase in training activities along the Silver Strand between Coronado and Imperial Beach. Several organizations like the Department of Fish and Game are worried about the danger to marine life and the environment. We speak with the mayor of Imperial Beach and a representative from the Department of Fish and Game about their concerns.

The Navy is proposing an increase in training activities along the Silver Strand between Coronado and Imperial Beach. Several organizations like the Department of Fish and Game are worried about the danger to marine life and the environment. We speak with the mayor of Imperial Beach and a representative from the Department of Fish and Game about their concerns.


Jim Janney Mayor of Imperial Beach


Andrew Hughan, Spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Game

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: You're listening to These Days on KPBS. I'm Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. The Navy is under pressure to increase the tempo and scope of its training. And San Diego's silver strand is the ideal spot for year-round training that involves amphibious exercises, special warfare and mine counter measures. But the silver strand is also a beach used by residents of imperial beach and Coronado, some of whom are unhappy about the noise and restricted beach access. Plus, three dolphins washed ashore last month raising questions about whether the underwater blast used in the mine counter measures training might have killed them. An investigation is under way. Wee gonna be talking about all this hour, we have two guests, first of all, the mayor of Imperial Beach, Jim Janney, is on the line with us. Mayor Janney, thanks for joining us.

JANNEY: Thank you very much for inviting me.

ST. JOHN: And we will also have Andrew Hughan of the Department of Fish and Game; Andrew, glad you're here.

HUGHAN: Good morning, Allison.


ST. JOHN: We invited the Navy to join us, but they said until the investigation is complete and the EIR is complete, they are unable to comment on it publicly and join this discussion. We're also hoping to get your calls on this issue, 1-888-895-5727 if you have questions or comments of the Navy has extended the comment period on this project, so it is still up for discussion. And they have not yet responded to all the comments. So mayor Janney, let's start with you, how will the expansion of training exercises along the silver strand affect your residence in Imperial Beach.

HUGHAN: Well, actually, we're talking several issues here cause imperial bach is surrounded north and south by two military installations. And they operate totally differently. One of for special warfare activities, and the other one is for the training of helicopter pilots of so they're different, the environmental city out right now is about the helicopter operations of they went through a study over several years on the special war fare operations which are actually in Coronado, but they border Imperial Beach residential areas of so we hear noise impacts for sure. And there's been a lot more lately than we had heard in the past.

ST. JOHN: Okay. So noise is one of the main issues. And is that hang from the helicopter changes?

JANNEY: Actually, no. It's both. The helicopter changes being proposed, a 30 percent increase in operations, which takes it up to a level we think close to what they did in 1989 in this area. The other issue is the special war fare to our north, and they do actual live or some sort of gunfire drills, at least quarterly, and usually at night, and we're trying to work with the Navy so they at least alert us to that happening, similar to what they do in Camp Pendleton, so that the residents know what's going on. It usually lasts for an hour it a half-hour, but without knowing about it, I think it's even more disturbing.

ST. JOHN: The plan is to add 52 helicopters to the north island 800 personnel to the navy base coronado, increase training activities from 400 to more than 5000. Which the ER says will cause a spike in firearm discharge and helicopter authorities. So it's -- the helicopter noises that -- are you hearing a lot from residents of Imperial Beach about blasts and noises? What does it sound like?

JANNEY: There was an environmental assessment out, and they haven't extended it. And there's been a lot of concern by the citizens that are right there, I mean, visually the run way is a thousand feet away from residential areas. And even though it's helicopters, there are quite I few noise impacts. And I think that the Navy needs to reach out a little bit to those communities and make sure that the noise impacts are not so great. I mean, we're talking a 30 percent increase over a very large amount of operations, it's quite large. And I can see the concerns of neighbors right there. Because they need something. We've accommodated the military for decades, and I think they need to take into consideration the quality of life of the local residents too.

ST. JOHN: Okay, thank you, mayor Janney, I know that many people feel like they can't speak out because they want to support the military, and they're afraid of being seen as, you know, unpatriotic I. So it's a difficult issue. And since the Navy isn't with us here today, I need to sort of speak for them a little bit here and say that they're saying that some of the current complaints relate to noise levels under current training, which is using the outlying landing field at Imperial Beach. Of and helicopters will return to the primary run way once the repaving project is complete. Do you have a way of getting a real sense of what the expansion will actually mean in terms of noise? Bearing in mind that the noise you're hearing may actually be due to a different factor?

JANNEY: Well, they've actually stated that, and I'm aware of -- they're doing run way repairs, so it moves some of the operations closer to the residential areas of Imperial Beach. But I mean, in over all, the impacts and noise is very great. I mean helicopters are not fast move, they're not jet aircraft, but they do have a noise, and I think it affects the daily lives of people. The Navy's been very good about trying to limit it at night, trying to limit it on weekends, but now we've got actually several other agencies such as home land security, sheriff's department, so many other agencies using that facility down there that helicopter noise seems to be what the folks in Point Loma have to deal with Lindbergh field here in Imperial Beach.

ST. JOHN: Okay. 1-888-895-5727 is the number if you'd like to ask a question or make a comment. We're talking about the Navy's expansion plans down there along the silver strand and close to Imperial Beach. And Ashley is on the line from San Diego. Thanks for calling, Ashley, go right ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, good morning, we're about four miles east of Imperial Beach, and I've certainly noticed in what seems like a big increase in those helicopters coming over the property as well as -- it sounds like jets, and they seem to be in line with, you know, Middle East affairs, and who knows, just practicing that gets increased. But I guess my question is, this expansion is not gonna make it any less, and what can someone do about it?

THE COURT: Okay. Thank you for that call, Ashley. So mayor Janney, have you had a response, even not an official response to the EIR, from the Navy, in terms of keeping the population informed at least about what the noise level is going to be?

JANNEY: Well, we've already sent at least one response initially from the city to the folks putting out the environmental assessment, including copies to our elected representatives, both federal and state about our concerns. And I think that's the thing that's hard is to try to get them to listen to it. We of course are not getting any response back. But we do have good communications with the Navy. I met with the captain from the facility last week, and you know, they're looking at ways to help, but it's just frustrating knowing that, you know, 30 percent in somebody's mind is not much, about in our mind's it's a huge amount of increase.

ST. JOHN: Okay. I think I should just sort of read something here which is from the EIR, which is they're being asked to increase training tempo from baseline conditions, conduct new types of training, conduct new types of training at additional locations, introduce now plaid forms, equipment, inn crease access and availability to the beach, and there's more about the access to the increase in the helicopters because of requests being sent down to them to increase the tempo of the training. And this is it a critical training range for western -- west coast naval amphibious, and mine counter measure activities. But there are different alternatives. The Navy always has alternatives in their different plans of are there any alternatives in their plan, mayor Janney that you would say would be preferable?

JANNEY: I don't believe that we've taken a position on that. And myself, personally, I'm kind of waiting to hear what the military and the Department of Defense wants to do to address the impacts on Imperial Beach. And hopefully, talking about it now, early in the process, is the time to do it before something happens. The this 30 percent increase is not due for, I think, you're talking 2014 or 16, something along that time frame. So now is the time to address everything.

ST. JOHN: Okay. Yes. So 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. And this is an issue that affects San Diego. We saw on the front page of the paper today what an enormous share of our economy the military has. And so obviously San Diego is benefitting from having a lot of federal dollars poured into the economy in the form of salaries for the people working here. And at the same time, there are some sacrifices that the community has to make, such as a lot of increased noise. But this is part of the process, where the community has a chance to speak out and say what it's willing to accept. And we appreciate you taking the time to make these points; now, I wanted to just move on to the issue about the dolphins as well. Because we had a report of three dolphins washing ashore back at the beginning of March. And I believe an investigation is under way. And Andrew, I'd like to bring you in at this point. Andrew Hughan with the department of fish and game. What do we know about the dolphins? Is there any evidence their deaths might have been caused by Navy activities?

HUGHAN: You know, not at the moment. As you just said, it's ongoing, and it can be a complicated thing, that's demoic acid in the water and that may be the cause too.

ST. JOHN: What kind of acid is that? I beg your pardon, I missed the kind of acid that's in the water.

HUGHAN: It's called demoic acid, and it's similar to the red tide, it's an algae that plumes up into the water. And we at the Department of Fish and Game found it does have an effect on some marine mammals but it's too early to tell if these dolphins were affected by this.

ST. JOHN: Okay. And how would they have been affected? What is it that's being investigated here?

HUGHAN: Well, we always want to try to find the absolute cause of death of any animal, and so this is -- you know, there are a lot of factors that could be involved in this. But demoic acid is one possibility.

ST. JOHN: Okay. And the effect, the sonar effect of blasts, is that another possibility?

HUGHAN: It's under review, certainly, but we found that the sonar, you know, the dolphins are so sensitive to sonar and under water activity, that when there is a dramatic increase in activity as the Navy avenue doing at a specific site, then they tend to shy away and to get away from any kind of what they perceive as a hazard.

ST. JOHN: So now, the Navy say that they checked for dolphins after setting off -- before setting off the under water blast, and there weren't any around. Do the kind of sonar waves that is released by a blast that could kill a dolphin extend beyond the line of sight?

HUGHAN: You know, I'm not a marine biologist, I wouldn't even want to attempt that.

ST. JOHN: But in terms of looking at how the Navy could be protecting the Marine mammals, is line of sight an affective way of doing it?

HUGHAN: I believe it is. And we at the department believe the Navy is doing justice to marine mammals. We don't think that there's anything they're doing that they shouldn't be do will.

ST. JOHN: Okay. What is the Navy's record of protecting marine mammals when training?

HUGHAN: As far as I'm aware, it's pretty good over all. And unfortunately, there's always going to be some loss of life. There's always gonna be some collateral damage when they do things like this, and it's unfortunate but it happens.

ST. JOHN: And do you think the Navy could increase its training without impacting marine mammals off the coast of the silver strand there.

HUGHAN: I think if they do due diligence, which again we think they have, and we're always concerned about the Marine environment, and we have a good relationship with the Navy too, and we believe that they're doing the right now.

ST. JOHN: Good. And Andrew, who's doing the investigation?

HUGHAN: We have a whole marine division, we have 2400 people in the Department of Fish and Game, and several hundred of those are in the Marine division who spend all of their days and years in the Marine environment. So we have a very good staff of scientists and biologists.

ST. JOHN: So the investigation that's under way right now, is it being done by the Navy or the Department of Fish and Game?

HUGHAN: You know, I believe that the investigation is a join navy and US fish and wild life, whish is essential the federal fish and game department. The California department of fish and game, I don't believe is directly involve would in those three dolphins.

ST. JOHN: Okay. So, now, the dolphins are not a protected issue and. If the Navy decides to go ahead anyway, is there any law to protect them?

HUGHAN: No, not that I'm aware of.

ST. JOHN: Okay. So now, do we know how far out the training exercises go? Is there any way to monitor if there is anymore damage to the Marine as a result of the increased tempo training?

HUGHAN: We monitor only about as far out of the outward island, which would, Catalina, and we also respond to any concerns we get from the outbound fishermen. So we don't have an active ongoing investigative team. But we are -- we do respond quickly and with the proper authority to any reports that we get from the people involved, which would be the fishermen.

ST. JOHN: Okay. I wanted to go back to you, mayor Janney, the Navy has in fact managed to protect the least term population that nests on the beach. Might this also be affected by the expansion.

JANNEY: I think they're very, very concerned about that, and I think they've even contracted with the state's parks folks to help patrol the areas of the beach that actually neighbor Imperial Beach and Coronado that have those leaseturns and they do a very good job of it, than some of our other local agencies can do because they have the resources.

ST. JOHN: So I'd like to invite anyone who has any other questions or comment to make to join the conversation, our number here is 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. And the people Imperial Beach do, I guess, sometimes use the silver strand. Is the access to the beach affected and is that pretty much a deputy deal as far as you're aware?

JANNEY: The access is limited in a sense. I don't think that they go out there and tell people they can't walk or jog on the beach. They're very concerned about animals because people that walk animals sometimes allow the animals to get into the dunes where the lease turns on, but they're taking a lot of actions to understand that. But they also understand that it's a public amenity of the beach. So if they're not operating anything, it's not nesting season, they're pretty lenient on that [CHECK AUDIO].

ST. JOHN: And is the EIR expansion on that part already complete and do we know when the decision's gonna come out?

JANNEY: To my knowledge, and I'm not an expert, I believe the EIS that they did for that's called the silver strand training complex, which most people from the south county know that's a large array out there, we call it the elephant cage, I think that EIS has been done for some time, and that was to increase operations to special war fare as well as the mine warfare folks.

THE COURT: Okay, are you working with the Department of Fish and Game to try to protect the environment around your city there, mayor Janney?

JANNEY: It's pretty extraordinary, over 50 percent I believe of the land mas of our city is either federal or state property, there's a very large estuary, we have a very large south bay to our north, and then the navy works with us, and we've always been concerned. The Tijuana river value estuary is one of the largest in the Southern California area, and I think that we've always considered that a great asset to Imperial Beach.

ST. JOHN: And is this expansion proposal from the Navy the first one in a while? What's the context? You've been living down there for a long time. Is this a larger expansion than you've seen?

JANNEY: The change in operations at the facility just to our north is quite a big change. It used to be more of a radio facility. Now it's an active military training. The helicopter operations, the numbers they're putting out show, like I said, 30 percent increase, which in anybody's mind to me, that's fairly large.

ST. JOHN: I guess one of the questions, you know, that rises in my mind, anyway, and I must say I wish that we had a person from the Navy here, but despite our efforts, they were not able to join us today, is why at a time when the nation is possibly going to be withdrawing some time in the near future from major areas of conflict, there need to be such large expansions in their training areas. Do you -- have you had discussions about that with the Navy at all, mayor Janney?

JANNEY: Not directly. I'm in the sure -- that's kind of a policy level, a little bit above the level of the city of Imperial Beach. I understand that their concepts of focusing on the west coast, the San Diego area, as you mentioned in the morning newspaper had quite a large article about the economic effects the military has. And I think they have a process they have to go through to allow -- to notify everybody of what they're doing. And that's what they're doing now. I mean if they move in this case either new aircraft or moving aircraft from other locations in the United States, and you know, if you impact certain areas, and San Diego can say positives about the military build ups, are the movement to the San Diego area, and obviously there's impacts, which is what we're talking about today.

ST. JOHN: Exactly. Greg is on the line with a comment, thanks for call accident, Greg, what's your experience?

NEW SPEAKER: Well, I live about a quarter of a mile from the helicopter and hillo base, naval outlying station in Imperial Beach upon I've been there for about four years now. And I've noticed an increase, a real increase in the noise and the activity going on there. I just it's -- like you said earlier in your comment, that for wiping down military operations around the world, why are we stepping it up in particular the area that I live in? And it's not just the Navy, I believe, there's been a real step up in border control. And the security around the border, you know, the border fence that goes all the way to the beach out there. And I'm just wondering why, at this time, now they're stepping everything up. And what that's gonna do for us. Why should we have to endure the noise and pollution and everything else that goes along with that?

ST. JOHN: You feel like it's affecting your experience of living in Imperial Beach.

NEW SPEAKER: Absolutely, absolutely. No doubt about it.

ST. JOHN: Okay, Greg.

NEW SPEAKER: Especially those of us who live within half a mile of the base. Our property values have already decreased enough in the last four years, what's this -- how does this even affect that too?

ST. JOHN: So when you originally moved there, Greg, you obviously were aware that you were right next it a base. Was it a different experience?

NEW SPEAKER: Well, it wasn't nearly -- there didn't seem to be as much activity over there at the time. And there's just no set dares when they practice, when they don't practice. It could be in the midafternoon, it could be late at night. It just doesn't matter. I feel like they -- the Navy and the military and home land security, they can just come in and sort of take over. And then everybody's just gonna have to deal with it because it's in the interests of our nation, and I just don't believe in that.

ST. JOHN: Thank enforce your perspective, Greg. Tracy from San Diego is on the line now with I think you've got a point that you'd like to make, Tracy. Thanks for calling. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. Just with the last caller, I know about a program that is a Department of Defense wide program, and clearly, you know, the Navy's marriage with San Diego has been long and challenging but successful in many ways. And one of the programs that the military has that I know has been successful at Camp Pendleton and has been talked about in the south bay area is called encroachment partnering where the military works with agencies like the trust for public land and organizations like the nature conservancy where they buy up, basically protections around these areas where development couldn't come right up to the fence line, and the natural resource protection is there, and these other organizations that are concerned with conservation receive protections as well, and it's been a pretty successful program, and it's growing, so I just wanted to offer that perspective.

ST. JOHN: Tracy, thanks for that. Yes. Of and I know that certainly up in Camp Pendleton they've got a very strong environmental protection ethic going on, and that they regard that as being one of their responsibilities. Down on the silver strand, they have had some success with the lease turns, I believe it's been quite successful. But at the same time, that's a difficult thing to balance when you're also increasing training that involves human activity and detonations and that kind of thing. Sandy from San Diego. Go ahead and join the show here. Thanks for calling.

NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to basically commend the Navy for the job that they've managed to do, walking that wire for the natural resources. I don't think there's any way you can do this type of training without having some impact on the natural resources. But they've done a really stellar job of attempting to balance that, and I think the conservation of the different avian species that they currently support on their training beaches is [CHECK AUDIO] to that. I just wanted to mention that.

ST. JOHN: Good. Thank you sandy of that's great. And Mike has got a point to make also from Imperial Beach. And the minute we have left, Mike, go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, I think I have a similar comment to sandy. But a little bit of a different perspective. I think in all due respect to mayor Janney, I do see more snowy Clovers on the Pacific side and on the silver strand war fare training side of the beach area there. Those [CHECK AUDIO] I find it ironic that when our special war fare troops train, they do utilize those dunes areas. So it's a fine balance being made there. I live within 2 to 300 yards to what's referred to as the elephant cage. And when they do fly the sorties with the helicopters, it's a full day affair and quite loud, it's a little disconcerting. When the war fare operations start up at night, it tends to be close to 9:00 o'clock, just a casual observation, and starts with a percussion, explosions, and then you hear a lot of fire, sounds like shot guns, it sounds like large caliber machine guns.

ST. JOHN: Okay. Mike, thanks so much for putting us in the picture there. I'm afraid we've come to the end of our time. But I'd like to thank all of you who are still on the phone hanging on there. And also our guests, mayor Janney from Imperial Beach, thanks for being with us mayor.

JANNEY: Thank you very much.

ST. JOHN: And Andrew Hughan, of the department of fish and game. Thank you.

HUGHAN: You're welcome.

ST. JOHN: Stay with us, coming up on These Days, we're gonna be talking about food and green kitchens.