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"Navy Chief Pans San Diego Airport Search"


 
Thursday, May 11, 2006

Navy Chief Pans Airport Search
By ROB DAVIS
The Voice of San Diego (CA)


The U.S. Navy's top civilian repeated the military's objections to the use
of area military bases for a new commercial airport, while suggesting the
weighty airport issue had the potential to cause a schism between the
region's civilian and military leadership.

Speaking Wednesday morning to a meeting of defense contractors at the Marine
Corps Recruit Depot, Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter called the
airport authority's site-selection process "illogical" and said the search
is passing over reasonable alternatives in favor of pursuing Marine Corps
Air Station Miramar.

"We recognize there is a need to work some of the issues with Lindbergh
Field," Winter said at the meeting of the San Diego Military Advisory
Council, a local military advocacy group. "But I worry about the pursuit of
options to the exclusion of others."

Asked later whether the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority is
excluding specific options, Winter said it wasn't his place to promote any
specific non-military sites.

"I'm just suggesting it's not a productive path to insist on an option
that's not going anywhere," Winter said.

Winter's 27-minute speech was warmly welcomed with a standing ovation from
the group of defense contractors, who splintered in 2004 from a similar
group within the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce over the chamber's
support for including military sites in the airport site-selection process.

Winter identified the airport issue -- and the airport authority's focus on
Miramar -- as a potential wedge between the region's civilian and military
communities, although it isn't clear what effect that could have in a region
where the two are dependent upon one another.

"I really don't want to see this set of issues create a schism," Winter
said. "We have had such a great relationship over the last 100 years."

Winter toned down his rhetoric in a press conference following the
breakfast, saying he doesn't worry about a split, that the military is
engrained in the local residents' hearts and souls. But he also said he was
bothered that local military officials had to spend so much time addressing
the airport issue.

The airport authority, which is drawing close to completing its search for a
solution to future air passenger capacity constraints at Lindbergh Field, is
examining three military sites as possible homes for a new international
airport.

But the plans would require commercial airlines to share airspace with
military training pilots, something the military has called unsafe. On
Monday, the authority plans to release in-depth studies of each site:
Miramar, Naval Air Station North Island and Marine Corps Base Camp
Pendleton.

Several airport authority members have identified the military bases as
being the only viable options within 60 miles of downtown San Diego. But
commercial use of any base would require the consent of the Pentagon or an
act of Congress.

Winter strongly questioned whether any political will exists in Washington
to enable the closure of a San Diego-area base, saying the role of the
region's bases was affirmed by the most recent round of Pentagon base
closures in 2005. Getting Congress on board, Winter said, "would be an
amazing feat."

Winter highlighted the Navy's increasing reliance on San Diego evidenced by
that base-closure round. The Navy has plans to station its first four
littoral combat ships -- a new ship designed for close-shore support -- in
San Diego, Winter said, and is similarly shifting three submarines and a
group of minesweeping ships here.

"It is a long-term commitment on the part of the Navy to be here," Winter
said.

Some airport authority members have repeatedly said they want to have a
creative dialogue with the military, to come up with a solution that would
benefit both parties. Under such a scenario, they say, the authority could
theoretically build infrastructure for the military in exchange for land for
an airport.

But Winter reasserted the military's objection to what some authority
members have characterized as a "win-win scenario."

"The view of a win-win solution is inconsistent with what we'd view as even
being marginally acceptable," he said.

Three members of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority attended:
Xema Jacobson, Mary Teresa Sessom and Robert L. Maxwell. Though they
constitute the bloc of authority members who are averse to the study and use
of military sites, at least two other board members -- Paul G. Nieto and
Chairman Joe Craver -- were on vacation.


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