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"San Diego: Joint airport on a base will not fly, military says"
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Joint airport on a base will not fly, military says
By Jeff Ristine
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune
Tasked with serving and protecting the same public, local military brass and
the countywide airport authority are growing more polarized than ever over
the answer to the region's future air transportation needs.
Remarks from both sides reflect an increasing exasperation, and even
mistrust, developing as the five-year airport site-selection effort enters
its home stretch with only five or six options on the table.
Top military figures accused the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority
yesterday of disregarding national security and passenger safety by
continuing to study Miramar, North Island and Camp Pendleton as joint
Sailors and Marines train for war at the three bases, and a civilian
presence never will be compatible with that mission, Rear Adm. Len Hering
Sr. and Maj. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert said.
"Aviators have a term for the condition that we're seeing right now,"
Lehnert said. "It's called target fixation. It's when you ignore all other
issues going on."
Authority officials, meanwhile, say they seek nothing less than to settle
the perennial airport issue, and that the military ought to let the process
"This may be the last opportunity this region is going to have for a long,
long time to be able to study these sites in total," said Joseph Craver,
chairman of the authority board. "To stop before we do that is, I think, an
injustice to the citizens that we represent."
Others said the technical analysis now under way may well rule out one or
more military bases for joint use, as happened with East Miramar when
consultants determined there were terrain obstructions.
"We do need to do that analysis, and we need the military to help us explain
those things a bit better," said Paul Nieto, chairman of the authority's
strategic planning committee.
Besides the military installations, the authority is considering Boulevard
in East County and the Yuha Desert of southwestern Imperial County, where a
100-mile magnetic-levitation train to transport travelers could add up to
$20 billion in project costs, according to a report to be released tomorrow.
Still off to the side is the possibility of stretching Lindbergh Field to
its operational capacity, with or without adjacent Marine Corps Recruit
Depot land for a second runway.
The nine appointed members of the authority board expect to select an
airport option within two months, with a ballot measure in November. Three
members are on record against the military options.
Hering, commander of Navy Region Southwest, and Lehnert, commanding general
of Marine Corps Installations West, spoke yesterday with the editorial board
of The San Diego Union-Tribune, which regularly hosts newsmakers to discuss
current events and invites newsroom reporters and editors to the meetings.
Lehnert said he believes the "target fixation" for the airport agency is the
Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, where he said carrier landing practice and
other combat-aircraft operations should rule out a civilian airport.
Hering and Lehnert said none of the installations would still be under
review had the authority considered the impact on the military's mission as
seriously as it has measured issues such as the amount of earthwork that
would be required to level the proposed civilian sites.
In public and private discussions with the agency's staff and its technical
consultants, Lehnert said efforts to identify insurmountable problems with
airport operations at the military site have "gone on deaf ears."
Those issues include the prospect of shifting carrier training flights at
Miramar to airspace over Tierrasanta, the neighborhood southeast of Miramar,
and the presence of explosives at North Island Naval Air Station in
And Hering said any dream of joint use ignores the chaos that would ensue
from any 9/11-style lockdown that renders military bases off-limits to
civilians, possibly for months.
Angela Shafer-Payne, vice president of strategic planning at the airport
authority, said the agency hasn't fully answered the military's concerns
because they are still being investigated.
"That's why we need to get to the end of this analysis and present it to the
public," she said. "Our technical analysis will only permit something that
Findings will be shared with the board as they develop, she said, as
occurred Monday when consultants identified troubling concerns with
crosswinds at North Island Naval Air Station, where parallel runways are
The authority has always assumed that access to civilian and military sides
of any base would be separated, Shafer-Payne said, one of the reasons why a
subterranean tunnel from Lindbergh Field is being studied for the North
Craver noted that the authority honored congressional pressure to table the
military options during the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's latest
review, which ended in November. As a result, he said, the agency had only a
few months to gather and assess technical information.
"The data that has been shared with us by the military is loud and clear,"
Craver said. All three military sites face "huge challenges" for joint use,
but Craver said the process of collecting facts and comparing the sites
against one another needs to be finished.
As for "target fixation," Craver - a decorated combat pilot in the Vietnam
War - said, "My mind is completely wide open."
The next round of information on the military sites, including airport
costs, is due at a March 27 airport committee meeting.
At this week's committee meeting, a dispute arose as to whether the agency
has screened the military sites to the same level as discarded options such
as Ramona and Otay Mesa.
Board member Mary Teresa Sessom and Hering contend the authority has yet to
apply "Tier I" criteria that would show, for example, how many
military-housing residents would be affected by a new airport. But
Shafer-Payne said the screening was done in 2003, albeit with a "cookie
cutter" template for a two-runway airport that has since been refined and
will need to be updated.
Craver said he is "a little disappointed" with the military's position.
"It would be comforting for them to be able to sit at the table with us and
go through these issues," he said. To some people, he said "they're coming
across as not being good neighbors."
"I don't want them to get that label put on them," Craver said, but the
resistance "is very distractive to the airport authority and our process."
In not closing any San Diego bases, Hering and Lehnert said the Pentagon's
BRAC process confirmed the long-term importance of Miramar, North Island and
Pendleton as linchpins of national security.
Hering said the military has been unwilling to answer "what-if" scenarios
with the authority, such as moving operations out of Miramar. Doing so, he
said, might allow the authority to claim any joint-use proposal was
developed with the military's assistance.
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