Navy drops plans to use Big Sur as bombing range

By Mark Sherman, The Associated Press
Friday November 16, 2001

WASHINGTON — The Navy has dropped plans to use an old military base between Big Sur and the Hearst Castle as a practice range for 3,000 bombing missions a year. 

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Salinas, said the Navy decided that it would not save much money in reduced fuel costs, a major reason for considering Ft. Hunter Liggett, 40 miles south of Big Sur, as a bombing range. 

“It’s a great victory,” Farr said Thursday, after getting word from Duncan Holaday, the Navy’s deputy assistant secretary for installations. 

Lt. Pauline Storum, a Navy spokeswoman, confirmed the decision. 

“The Navy has determined that there is no present need to expand our current use of the ranges at Ft. Hunter Liggett,” Storum said. Navy fighter jets currently make 200 to 300 training runs a year at the base, she said. 

The Navy had proposed a tenfold increase in bombing missions at the base, a 165,000-acre expanse amid the state’s most remote and rugged coastal landscapes that newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst sold to the Army in 1940. 

F/A-18 fighter jets from Lemoore Naval Air Station in the San Joaquin Valley and aircraft carriers off the California coast were to have swooped down on the oak woodlands and rolling hills, aiming 25-pound dummy bombs at a 500-foot bull’s-eye painted on the ground. 

The fort is only 76 miles west of Lemoore. Planes currently fly 227 miles to Fallon, Nev., and 159 miles to Superior Valley near Barstow, Calif. The Navy was expecting $3 million a year in reduced fuel costs. 

“But they decided they would just spend more time over the target so they’d burn the same amount of fuel,” Farr said. 

Area residents protested the plans for the bombing range, complaining about the expected noise and the potential damage to tourism on the rustic coast. 

Members of the Salinan Nation Indian tribe said that the area should be left alone because it is where their ancestors first lived. A group of 22 Benedictine monks said they did not want their silence disturbed at the nearby New Camaldoli Hermitage. And the National Park Service said endangered plants and animals, such as condors, must be protected. 

Some residents also worried about the accuracy of the bombs, saying some would inevitably miss the target, possibly straying into their back yards. 

The base was decommissioned in 1995. It is now used mainly as a training site.