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City Council, Citizens Lambast Navy Helicopter Increase, Environmental Assessment

City Council and members of the community near the Naval Outlying Field where the Navy wants to increase helicopter activity 30 percent by 2016 spoke out against an environmental assessment nearly all agreed was incomplete and inaccurate.

At Wednesday evening's City Council meeting, local residents, Mayor Jim Janney and the City Council, city staff and even the president of the South Bay Union School District Board of Trustees called the Navy's environmental assessment flawed and lacking measurement of noise levels and consequences to neighborhoods bordering the Outlying Landing Field.

Though a discussion to formulate the city's official comment on the assessment was added to the agenda only a few days prior, nearly every seat in council chambers was taken in one of the most attended meetings since councilmembers were sworn in last December.

The U.S. Navy wants to increase the number of helicopters . This would push helicopter traffic up to more than 320,000 helicopter flights a year.

The additional four Anti-Submarine Squadrons and 800 sailors will be based at Naval Air Station North Island but practice primarily in Imperial Beach.

Last week, the Navy held to discuss the increase and the draft environmental assessment. Public comments have been requested until March 28 to be included in a final environmental assessment. Navy leadership will then decide whether or not to increase helicopter operations.

Of nine residents who came to comment Wednesday, all live in the Seaside Point or Oneonta neighborhoods, many within blocks of the Outlying Landing Field.

All but one said they strongly disagree with the idea of increasing air traffic and that Navy helicopters often violate an agreement between the city and the Navy not to fly over homes and keep helicopter flight within certain hours.

Many saw examples of violations within the last week.

School board trustee and President Chris Brown lives blocks from the Outlying Field. She said an increase in helicopter flights in the area would have an impact on students, local residents and her own quality of life.

Last week, she said, she was at Oneonta Elementary School.

“I was on the playground,” Brown said. “And you couldn't even hear the kids playing they were so low and so loud. There's been violation after violation coming over my house at night, in the day and at Oneonta.

“Now I'm always in support of the Navy. I think everyone in this community has connections with the Navy. When I moved into my home in 1972, that was a full NAS (Naval Air Station),” Brown said.

“The rate that they're talking about now will exceed the noise when it was a full NAS. And I work down there, so I know what I'm talking about,” she said. “It will affect our property values, it affects our students and my house shakes also. And I'm two blocks away from the fence.”

Two Seaside Point residents bought their own decibel meters to measure the amount of noise from a helicopter flyover. Both found noise levels around 90 decibels.

“When the helicopters decide to fly low or buzz the palm trees, it's 88-90 decibels, and I can see the drapes in my house shaking,” said Casey Simons who lives a few blocks from the boundary between the landing field and Seaside Point.

He knew about the helicopters when he moved in and supports the Navy, he said, and “can understand the sound of freedom down there” but “the idea that they're going to increase that by 30 percent … at the level it is right now is barely tolerable,” he said.

Simons attended the Navy's open house last week. 

The Navy's environmental assessment measures flyovers in seven places along the helicopter's flight path, from Seacoast Drive to Coronado Cays to Coronado neighborhoods, but not Seaside Point.

“Well living where I live right on the back fence line, I can stand in my backyard and see the bottom of a helicopter. So this will impact us as residents,” Simons said. “The increase will affect our homes, our property values, even just the vibrations and the structural damage to maintain it. I'm not here to complain, I'm just giving you examples of why you should take a stance.”

Former Marine helicopter pilot Dante Pamintuan moved with his family to Seaside Point last October. He called the assessment “flawed, one-sided, vague and incomplete.”

“The neighbors here at Seaside Point and down in Oneonta have been very gracious in being a good neighbor. And I don't believe that the Navy has held up their end of the agreement by going and encroaching on the fence line,” Pamituan said. “I don't believe that this EA is complete. You don't have enough information to make a decision.”

Pamintuan said he spoke to Capt. Lindsey at the open house March 10, and was told helicopters operations are concentrated along the southern boundary of the field away from developed properties north of the field.

“That's false. That has not been happening,” Pamituan said. “It's specifically not happening in our neighborhood.”

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After the meeting, Pamintuan suggested the city, in the long term, recommend the landing field be removed entirely.

“Imagine a development there or world-class university,” he said.

Councilman Ed Spriggs suggested the city measure decibels themselves as proof that violations of the Navy and city's agreement is taking place. He also advised residents in the area to document and report violations.

Before the City Council took comments from the public, Jim Nakagawa gave a presentation reviewing the proposed Navy actions. 

Nakagawa recommended a noise attenuation retrofit program for homes near the military to secure homes shaken by helicopter noise, extending the comment period set to end March 28 at least 30 days and additional testing to “fairly assess what kind of noise levels we are talking about in these communities.”

“Because the environmental document proposes some changes that differ significantly from existing conditions, we believe the preparation of an environmental impact statement is warranted in this project,” he said.

Unlike an environmental assessment, an environmental impact statement, Nakagawa said, requires the identification of significant impacts to the environment and calls for measures to mitigate consequences.

“Now the proposed action by 30 percent but that includes an increase in night operations,” Nakagawa said. “The action does not appear to recognize our current curfew agreement we have with the Navy.”

Community Development Department Director Greg Wade said the agreement is not in writing.

“That is a very big problem,” said Mayor Jim Janney, who suggested using minutes from past meetings where former NASNI Commanders testified to the agreement.

 “And I think we need to challenge them on the fact that we don't think it's adequate,” he said. “The big guy on the block is the federal government and we might not get everything we want out of them, but we should at least get something out of them, and if nothing else, if they're going to bring the helicopters here, they can retrofit all the homes in the area or something.

“I don't want to give in completely here but I'm just trying to think what we could get, because I just see them saying no, but if we give them some options that they can actually accomplish other than saying no more helicopters, which they might not be able to do, it's how do we mitigate the noise problems.”

Councilwoman Lorie Bragg, along with other residents and other councilmembers, said the city of Imperial Beach should request the comment period be extended to allow residents, school districts and other impacted parties more time to give their opinion on a helicopter increase.

“What it really comes down to was their report was dismissive or minimal in their consideration of the issues that we're discussing,” she said. “And I know the Navy maybe wants to rush this along, but I think the issue is too important to rush.”

Mary Hinsley said she is worried about what the constant activity does to her home and believes the structural integrity of her home could be compromised.

“It constantly vibrates. The pictures vibrate. You can put your hand on it and feel it especially when the helicopters are coming down and going up,” she said.

The only person to comment in favor of the increase was Jim Davis, who lives in Seaside Point and is in the Navy.

“The guys who fly those helicopters are going in harm's way every day, they're risking their lives every time they go in the cockpit,” he said. “If they're not practicing at Ream, I don't know where they're going to practice.

“They know the rules. They are very careful about obeying the rules,” he said

Nancy Dayton said she wouldn't have known about the meeting if it wasn't for Christine Hillger, who distributed hundred of flyers to residents in the area to encourage them to attend and to learn more about the helicopter increase. .

“Every one of you here, if you expect us to be the only voice to challenge the Navy on this EA then we most likely will fail, cause if you don't put your own pens to the paper and write your own comments, even if it's on a yellow sticky note, the more the merrier,” Janney said.

To comment, .

City Manager Gary Brown suggested comments made at the meeting be added to the city's official comment on the environmental assessment.

Shorebird March 19, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Another Liberty Station 1/1/2 miles from Los Americas? Build a world class University on whose money? Property oowners taxes go out, that will thrill you. Or hold a vision like Chula Vista for their bayfront fiasco, hope Disney will come to town and build a theme park. I thought the Navy was phasing out this helicopter field 2015. I suggest you buy more property in the area now to guarantee a ticket on the development train when the Navy shuts it down, or as in Miramar turns it over to the Marines.
Paul Dykes March 19, 2011 at 07:54 PM
I hope they do turn it over to the Marines, so they can put up another sign, saying "Please excuse our noise, THAT'S JUST THE SOUND OF FREEDOM."
Pop Quiz March 19, 2011 at 11:44 PM
Tracy you may be the smartest person in this town. I choose loud helicopters over big beige fake Mediterranean malls. Major Universities bring major parking and traffic. A stadium ? an amusement park ? Those are great for investors and carpet baggers just here to ride out this little town. Not so good for those of us that call it home. How many condos is our city pacing into the 9th and Palm warren? Please don't encourage these people ;)
Bundo March 20, 2011 at 01:31 PM
This site used to be NAAS Ream Field and we had four Squadrons there. It is like the people who build near a commercial airport and complain about the noise. With all of the base closings the crews do need space for practicing. GO HS-6
Paul Dykes March 20, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Agreed!! We fight like we train, people. In this day and age of increasing threats to our way of life, I wouldn't mind if they doubled it in size.
Mitchell D. McKay March 21, 2011 at 01:53 PM
"I came to this sleepy corner of the state compliments of orders from the US Navy...in back in 1964. My father worked at then NAS Ream Field for many years...at least 15 years anyway. He served in probably every HS (Helicopter Squadron) on that base. I used to get my haircut there (Thanks Mr. Butz!) and go the low-ceilinged 8-lane bowling alley. I understand the necessity of our military training and presence in the San Diego area. I have lived in Nestor and witnessed a helo crash (at the Egger's Dairy farm) as a young man in the late 1960s. I have lived within earshot of the base most of my entire life and am currently a property owner three blocks from the base. I think what we all want is the Navy to be more sensitive to the neighborhoods which they continuously impact with their necessary training and flight operations. I want the Navy to respect the physical boundaries (Iris Street) and the acoustical boundaries with respect to being a "Good Neighbor". I fully understood the presence of the helo base and the risks associated with it when I bought my last house in 2008. Those risks did not, however, include unrestricted helo flights over my house (3 blocks from the Iris Street end) or disregard or dismissal of my fellow Imperial Beach neighbor's concerns."
K.Simons March 24, 2011 at 03:10 AM
I am quoted in this article and feel that not only are my words misrepresented but that other facts from that IB Council meeting are too.  I encourage anyone questing the noise levels to park at the east slouge entrance and listen to your car radio at about normal talking level with your windows down.  Pay attention to what point you can't hear it anymore and were the closest helicopter is to your location.  Then as you leave try to remember that you can drive away and go home but the residents of Seaside Point are already home and will continue to hear the flights. I am not against the expansion, just the misrepresentation of noise levels.  If all I was exposed to was the 60 dbs the Navy claims that I should be hearing, then I would not be speaking publicly about it.  Please remember that even the military has a code of conduct, and when they agree to not fly close to the residences, what is wrong with expecting them to do as they say? I was in the Navy, I even worked on the Seasprites that flew at OLF.  Our military service people should always be supported.  And I don't feel it is out of line to question them when a situation(or report) can be challenged with facts.  The Navy says this expansion will not expose residents to higher noise volume levels than the current 60 dbs that they already hear, then howcome I can walk outside and measue 90 dbs on any given flying day?
kw April 05, 2011 at 04:22 PM
Are you FRIGGING kidding me? I am sure there are quite a few nice quiet pieces of property in Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan for you if you are interested.
Dante Pamintuan April 05, 2011 at 04:50 PM
kw. Were you at the city council meeting to hear the facts? Perhaps you should sit with one of our affected neighbors in their driveway or living room and experience the noise levels yourself. It is the only way to understand what our neighbors are living with. We are just asking for mutual respect and courtesy when it comes to following the established course rules and agreements. I am also a former Marine Officer who supports our military. I live a block away from the fenceline and the noise is unbearable. Moving here in October 2010, the noise levels were within the fenceline and south of Iris Ave and 5th Streets in Seaside Point and were muted and tolerable. Now, due to this proposal and runway repairs, the Navy has deemed it mission critical that they expand helicopter operations while flying over homes. That is NOT acceptable. Please try and attend the next City Council meeting to get both sides of the story. Thanks.
Jason Campbell June 03, 2011 at 05:41 AM
You bought next to an airfield, now you want to move the airfield? One of you on here is a Marine? what did you do - get booted ?
Mike G September 15, 2011 at 06:05 PM
This is actually pretty damn funny. Jason, yes they bought next to an airfield, but an airfield operating at a certain level. To suggest that 30% noise increase is something they should just suck up is basically well, retarded and uninformed. I'm not sure where you live but I'll bet there is a street very nearby. How about I come park a trash truck right in front of your house and operate it a maximum volume until about 11 o'clock at night six days a week? Hey you bought a house on a street so you should expect street related noise right? Don't be such a simpleton. No one said "move the airfield". BTW what have you given for service Jason? How dare you? I'm pretty sure Paul Dykes doesn't live near the most heavily impacted area either or he wouldn't be flippant about this whole issue. Bundo, why do you think these aircraft don't train at their home base in Coronado? Could it be because the rich bastards there, many of whom are retired Captains and Flag officers won't put up with the noise? Figure it out.

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