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A Reader Writes: Don't roll out NAF red carpet just yet

February 24, 2011|By RICHARD RYAN

There has been a rush to get on the Naval Air Facility El Centro expansion bandwagon, but will there be new jobs or is this just a mirage? Before Valleyites give their unqualified support for the new 100 F-35C Hornet jets, perhaps a few issues should be considered.

First, will there be lots of new jobs associated with the expansion? Initially there will be new construction at NAF and local companies will likely benefit. After that? The Navy will bring in Navy and civilian technicians from outside Imperial County. There is no assurance that there will be a long-term boost in jobs for local residents. NAF is a “city” within the county. Most NAF personnel live in base housing and this will continue to be the case. Squadrons come here to train for a short period making off-base housing demand a non-starter. Restaurants might do a little better with the weekend visits by NAF temporary duty personnel.

Unfortunately, county supervisors are powerless to extract any promises concerning jobs and investment from the Navy. County elected officials or residents will have no say concerning whether or not jets will stay here or be re-stationed.

Second, yes noise is an issue. It’s an issue now. When the young sky jockeys get that adrenalin rush and crisscross the center of El Centro they interrupt my work, conversation, radio, etc. With 100 jets at NAF, it will be a din of jet noise. These are new, faster, more powerful carrier-based jets with lots of thrust. The collective chambers of commerce have never heard of jet noise so don’t ask them about it. I understand their perspective, but other citizens have a different viewpoint. Watch the small child cover his ears when a jet passes over. There is an environmental impact, and it’s known in most places as noise pollution.

I was upset at the responses online (http://www.ivpressonline.com/news/) to the complaint last month by the Seeley resident who reported that he didn’t like the noise and it upset his animals.

“It’s the sound of freedom,” someone writes.

No, it’s the sound of loud jets. The sound of freedom is people worshipping, politicians debating, students clicking onto the Internet. Please don’t confuse the instruments to protect America with the truly unique aspects of our freedom. We had better not come in second in any arms race, but to be sure, we better understand that we are in trouble if we start placing the protectors over the protected, the military over the civilians they are constitutionally bound to serve. When I was sworn in as a second lieutenant, we promised to uphold the Constitution of the U.S. (this is my real bias, I root for Army vs. Navy). We respected our superiors and did not dismiss civilian complaints about military conduct. Sometimes when I call NAF and report jet noise, I receive a response akin to, “you hayseeds don’t understand what we do, and you shouldn’t complain.” That’s arrogance we don’t need more of.

Third, the issue of local control of land use enters into it. Chambers and developers take note. If NAF expands, and along with it the importance of federal air space, the opportunities for economic expansion around NAF will be greatly curtailed. Housing developments will be barred or at best discouraged. Think carefully if the expansion of NAF is where county and city leaders want to place their bets on economic development.

These are controversial issues, kind of the real sound of freedom, and I’m sure some of these comments will be “dissed” or misunderstood. I’m requesting that county residents and leaders think carefully about the long term effects of NAF expansion. We will have some input to the Navy regarding community perspectives.

Before the red carpet is rolled out, think carefully about these issues. Thanks, and I hope the county can create jobs and improved quality of life for all residents in the future.

Richard Ryan lives in El Centro.

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