In Memoriam

educating the public on environmental issues

Maintaining Buffers Essential to Military Bases and Wetlands

The Naval Air Weapons Station, Pt. Mugu, now part of what is called the Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC), plays an extremely valuable role in the Ventura County economy. As one of the county's largest employers, the base helps maintain the county's delicate economic balance. The military base, together with agriculture, forms the economic foundation that give Ventura County open spaces, lower population density and a much higher quality of life than in any of the counties to the south.

However, periodically a process known as the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) addresses the military's efficiency and looks for bases around the country that could be closed. One of the factors that may influence the BRAC examines is "encroachment"-the creep of civilian life into the vicinity of the base. Encroachment into the area of a military base weighs against a base's desirability as a military establishment because, by definition, it brings civilians closer to the military's work, creating hazards and making security more difficult.

On its west side, the Pt. Mugu Naval Air Base borders Ormond Beach. Its access restrictions create a buffer to the Ormond wetlands, one of several factors that have preserved Ormond's miraculous biodiversity.

The recent news that the California Coastal Conservancy has voted to purchase another 276 acres at Ormond Beach is wonderful, cementing the next step in more than 15 years of struggle to preserve what its becoming generally recognized as the most important coastal wetlands system in Southern California. Everyone who has been involved in this long effort is to be congratulated. The value of the achievement will not be fully appreciated in our lifetimes.

Unfortunately, the euphoria with regard to the latest purchase at Ormond Beach obscures the point that the work to acquire the land necessary to protect Ormond Beach is far from done, and is in great danger of falling to a short-sighted vision of economic "balance" that could have a devastating effect, not just on the wetlands' long term viability, but also on the economic balance of the entire county.

Like a healthy military base, a healthy wetlands depends on buffer zones to protect it from the encroachment of human activities. There are many interdependencies between the plant and animal species of the wetlands with those of the "uplands," the term given to the dryer surrounding areas. To survive into the future, to be a genuine legacy for future generations, all of California's coastal wetlands' need undeveloped space around them to allow for a gradual migration of each wetland as ocean levels rise. Ormond is one of the only ones that has that space, and that is part of the reason it is so important.

As mentioned, the Pt. Mugu Naval Air Base serves as a buffer to Ormond Beach on the east. But Ormond Beach also serves as a buffer to Pt. Mugu. If further industrialization along Hueneme Rd. proceeds on the agricultural land that now borders the wetlands, the resulting traffic and pollution will not only encroach against the wetlands and its shy wildlife, it will also bring civilian activity that much closer to Pt. Mugu.

If Ventura County is serious about preserving the economic benefits that the Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station provides, it must develop the political will to minimize what the BRAC process will regard as encroachment on Pt. Mugu's western border. The county must act to keep the currently undeveloped county lands north of the wetlands in agriculture. Our elected officials need to examine this subtle relationship and how it affects the big picture of the county's future.

There are domino effects to be considered. If the Naval Air Weapons Station, Pt. Mugu, were to be closed, the county would not only lose the jobs it provides, and the spending power they create, but the extensive Pt. Mugu wetlands that we all can see as we drive PCH and round the corner at Mugu Rock, would be marginalized by subsequent development.

And without a buffer zone from the Hueneme Road industrial corridor that allows for future migration of the wetlands as well as a transition zone between areas of wildlife habitat and human activity, the long term viability of Ormond Beach, as a biological resource and a revenue-generating tourism magnet, will be jeopardized.

It would be a great shame to not only limit the potential of Ormond Beach, just as it is becoming realized, but also to allow encroachment to endanger the survivability of the Naval Air Weapons Station, Pt. Mugu, at a time when tax cuts are reducing the federal budget and the costs of the war in Iraq have federal bean-counters sharpening their pencils and looking for ways to cut domestic military spending.

For information on the Carlsbad explosion, visit www.corrosion-doctors.org/Pipeline/Carlsbad-explosion.htm.

* * *

by Janet Bridgers
Earth Alert