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Commissioners overule staff on Navy complex

Against a staff recommendation, the California Coastal Commission ruled on a 7-4 vote last week that the Navy's proposed 1.5 million-square-foot Coastal Complex on the Silver Strand is consistent with the state's Coastal Act.

The project -- which the Navy says should have its record of decision from the Secretary of the Navy next summer -- would be located on the southern portion of the Navy's Silver Strand Training Complex.

The proposed $700 million development of 24 buildings would be constructed over a 10-year period beginning January 2016.

The southern Silver Strand facility (SSTC-S) occupies 2.5 miles of coastline -- 1.2 miles of bay and 1.3 miles of ocean -- and is approximately 548 acres. The Coastal Campus’ 24-building footprint would be limited to 161.8 acres on the base's southern half.

Nine of the buildings would be for five West Coast SEAL teams, and other operational units that provide communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support.

Five logistics and community support buildings would aid operations. Seven would sustain indoor training and training support for operational units; the remaining three smaller buildings would be for a variety of other functions.

Under the preferred alternative, the Navy would have to demolish a military bunker and some other structures before construction could begin.

Jon Nylander, Naval Base Coronado public affairs officer, said there is a tremendous need for the facilities and that base personnel are delighted with the outcome.

He added the Navy is "pleased with the Coastal Commission's decision."

Nylander said the problem is simple: Current facilities were only intended for about 5,000 Navy SEALs. This figure has grown to nearly 10,000 SEALs and all the required support staff.

"A lack of dynamic shooting and close quarters combat training facilities is resulting in West Coast SEALs traveling to private sector ranges in the Midwest and Southeast, increasing time away from home and family," the Navy wrote, adding that the functions are currently in 60 different locations around the country.

In addition to a lack of space, the Navy said SEAL team training and administrative functions are located in obsolete buildings.

Many of these buildings date back to World War II and weren't meant to be permanent structures; 10 buildings exist on the Navy's Silver Strand Complex's southern parcel.

Nylander also emphasized that the development will be a "green project."

Nylander's comment notwithstanding, Coastal Commission staff urged rejecting the project, arguing the plan doesn't do enough to protect the environment.

Among other things, the commission staff was particularly concerned about the viability of a plant known as the Nuttalls lotus.

After much back and forth during last week's hearing, the Navy agreed to replace the endangered plant elsewhere on the base at a 3:1 ratio.

The Coastal Commission staff, which also criticized the 120-foot height of a planned parachute drying tower, had plenty of other concerns.

"The project site contains multiple environmentally sensitive habitats areas (ESHA) and wetlands, including vernal pools, southern dunes on the seaward margin of the training complex, coastal sage scrub and maritime succulent scrub, and coastal freshwater and saltwater marshes, along with a number of California Native Plant Society-listed rare and endangered plant species," the staff report stated.

The Coastal Commission staff had at least one other concern.

"Available sea level rise projection tools indicate that the project site will become increasingly vulnerable to flooding as sea level increases," the commission's staff wrote. "This hazard could be exacerbated by on-going beach recession along the southern Silver Strand."

The report added that several road improvements within the ESHA and a new water line would disturb several acres of dunes along the site's western boundary.

Ultimately, however, the commission felt the Navy's needs trumped the other considerations.

Nylander said the project now goes to the Secretary of the Navy for formal approval early next year. Requests for qualifications and/or requests for proposal are expected after that.

Construction of the green build project could be finished by 2024.

Upon completion, an estimated 3,050 Navy personnel would be rerouted for training from Naval Base Coronado to the Silver Strand complex, increasing the total number of personnel onsite from about 300 at present to 3,350 at build-out.

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