SAN FRANCISCO — The Navy has decided to do a full environmental review of its proposal to expand its practice runs at a target in Fort Hunter Liggett, about 40 miles south of Big Sur.
The Navy is proposing to increase its practice runs, during which dummy bombs are dropped on a 500-foot diameter target of shipping containers, from as few as 200 sorties to more than 2,900. That translates to about four flights a day with three planes in each flight.
Congressman Sam Farr (D-Carmel) has pushed for the full environmental impact statement for the proposal instead of the less comprehensive environmental assessment, which the Navy had already begun.
The Navy made the decision “due to the high level of public interest and concern,” said Navy spokesman Cmdr. Jack Papp.
“The Navy did not make this decision because it believes this proposal will have impact on the environment on and surrounding Fort Hunter Liggett,” he said.
“The environmental impact statement will make that determination on whether or not there will be an environmental impact.”
Residents and recreational users of the area along with environmentalists oppose the plan because of its proximity to the habitats of endangered and protected species, such as the bald eagle and the California condor.
Also, they are concerned about noise levels from the jets that will come from Lemoore Naval Air Station in the Central Valley, and from aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean, as well as accidents, such as stray bombs landing in residential areas.
Farr opposes the expanded military exercises and said he thinks a full environmental impact statement would bring serious environmental risks to light.
“I believe that once these risks are fully revealed, it will become clear that Fort Hunter Liggett is not the right place for loud, low-flying fighter jets,” he said in a statement.
The fort includes 165,000 acres and is used as a training ground for Army reserves and the National Guard. It is a wild stretch of oak woodlands and rolling hills once owned by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who sold the property to the Army in 1940.