Thursday, April 18, 2024

Traffic, Housing, and the Environment: Navy Studying Potential Impact of More Port Days for Aircraft Carriers

July 2009. The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11 transits into San Diego prior to mooring at Naval Air Station North Island. Image: U.S. Navy released.

The U.S. Navy is considering an increase to the number of days three aircraft carriers could be in port simultaneously – but first, it will study the impact that will have on Coronado.

“We’re meeting the mission when that third carrier is here; it is designed to be here,” said Newt “Bomb” McKissick, commanding officer of Naval Base Coronado. “But it’s no surprise that if you add another asset with thousands of people on it, it’s going to have an impact. One of the reasons we’re doing this study is to quantify what that impact is, instead of working from anecdotal information.”

At three outreach meetings (June 28 in Coronado), leadership requested public input on what this change could bring to the city so the Navy can plan for mediation. Chief among concerns were traffic, housing, and environmental impact.

There are already three aircraft carriers stationed at Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI), but under current policy, all three can only be in port for 29 days per year. The Navy’s study will assess increasing that limit to 180 days.

The three-carrier limit also includes transient ships pulling into port; for example, if two homeported ships were in Coronado and another Pacific fleet carrier pulled into port during its own operations, as is common for vessels homeported in Washington state or Japan, that would fulfill the maximum.

The Navy is accepting public comment until July 24, and then it will begin studying impact and ways to mediate any potential negative impacts. Residents can submit comments here.

Once public comment closes, the Navy will get to work, and expects to bring a draft plan back to the public in the summer of 2024, at which time the public will be able to submit feedback again before revisions and a final decision are made.

Comments from those who live and work in Coronado are crucial, officials said. For example, representatives from the water district attended the Navy’s open house and told leaders that when three carriers are in port, it makes their regular maintenance more difficult – an issue that may have otherwise flown under the radar but now can be planned for.

“The last time we did this analysis was 15 years ago,” said Ted Brown, installation and environmental public information officer at U.S. Fleet Forces Command. “Obviously, a lot of things have changed with respect to Navy training cycles, maintenance cycles, and operation. We also have a greater focus on the Pacific now. That’s why public comment is so important. If I have 1,000 comments on one topic, that communicates importance up the chain of command so we can provide hard data to decision makers and make things better for residents.”

Traffic and Air Quality

Newt “Bomb” McKissick, commanding officer of Naval Base Coronado, addressed potential concerns with more carrier port days — and ways to mediate them — at the U.S. Navy’s public outreach meeting.

There are only two ways to Coronado: over the San Diego-Coronado Bridge or via the eight-mile Silver Strand Highway from Imperial Beach. Although the proposed change would not lead to more sailors being stationed at NASNI, it could mean more port time.

The Navy anticipates needs for traffic and air quality mitigation to make up for increased traffic on the road. To get an accurate understanding of traffic needs through car counts and other metrics, it will conduct its study in partnership with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

McKissick said there are already programs in place, including ones that offer federal and state funding to sailors who participate in ride shares as well as a base shuttle for commuters off the island and an internal bus system within the base itself.

“The cost of living in Coronado has an impact, and is now forcing more and more of our sailors to live over the bridge and in other communities, and that has a secondary impact of increased bridge traffic,” McKissick said. “We’re looking at ways to incentivize mass transit to reduce traffic congestion.”

Base leadership works with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and Caltrans in its mass transit efforts, but Coronado’s geographic constraints present challenges in expansion. The Coronado City Council in November discussed potentially adding a North Island ferry stop for commuters to the Navy base.

“Nothing’s off the table,” McKissick said. “There are challenges with force protection if we were to add a ferry stop, but that’s an example of looking into all possible options.”

Housing and Socioeconomics

Military housing around San Diego – and Coronado is no exception – carries long wait lists, while sailors searching for homes in the local economy face staggering housing prices, prompting some to move as far away as Temecula and commute.

One way to address both traffic congestion and quality of life would be to build more housing, although that is a complicated endeavor. Military housing has been privatized for decades, and in San Diego, it is managed by Liberty Military Housing.

“We’re looking at potential ways to increase housing,” McKissick said. “We’re looking at whether we have land available that we can turn over to (Liberty Military Housing), and we’re looking at ways to expand barracks capacity. The challenge is getting enough funding to do so, but that could help with sailor quality of life, environmental impact, and community impact.”

But not all the potential impacts of more port days are negative. More sailors in port could mean more income to businesses, for example, and that is something that Navy also plans to measure.

Environmental justice

The Navy will also measure its impact across the bay. Since Coronado is constrained geographically, more sailors can push traffic across the bay, increasing traffic in neighboring communities.

Barrio Logan, which sits beneath the Coronado bridge on the San Diego side, already faces rampant pollution from traffic and industrial activity, leading to skyrocketing rates of asthma and other diseases. The community is predominantly poor, and its members are largely minorities.

The military will also assess the impact of maintenance to the ships on the environment.

In addition to those major concerns, the Navy also plans to study the following issues: biological resources, cultural resources, geology and soils, hazardous materials and waste, infrastructure, land use, noise, public health and safety, visual resources, water resources – and whatever else public comment directs.

Public comment closes on July 24. To submit feedback and learn more about the proposed project, visit its website.

Megan Kitt is married to an active duty service member.

Megan Kitt
Megan Kitt
Megan has worked as a reporter for more than 15 years, and her work in both print and digital journalism has been published in more than 25 publications worldwide. She is also an award-winning photographer. She holds BA degrees in journalism, English literature and creative writing and an MA degree in creative writing and literature. She believes a quality news publication's purpose is to strengthen a community through informative and connective reporting.Megan is also a mother of three and a Navy spouse. After living around the world both as a journalist and as a military spouse, she immediately fell in love with San Diego and Coronado for her family's long-term home.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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