Straight shooting

The Navy is preparing to resume live fire near the sands of Coronado after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed off last month on a plan to establish a “naval danger zone” in the nearby Pacific, to be closed to the public during target practice. From 1959 through 2008, the Navy operated a “partially baffled Small Arms Range” near the ocean shore of the North Island portion of its Coronado Navy base, not far from the entrance to San Diego Bay, according to a recent notice of approval by the Corps.

The 12-lane pistol range and 10-lane rifle range, with targets backed by a 20-foot-high berm with 18-foot berms along the sides, operated 360 days a year and handled about 1000 military shooters each month. The facility was closed after a safety review by the Navy concluded that some kind of a system was needed to warn passersby of “dangers associated with possible munitions ricochets.” Under the new plan, an area extending offshore about 4842 feet into the Pacific will be placed off-limits during firing. Three large red flags will warn mariners to stay out; at night, red lights at the top of the flagpoles will be turned on.

Not all of the 24 members of the public who sent comments were happy. “Several commenters stated the area in question has many uses of high priority to the maritime community, including yacht club races; bait hauling for sports fishing charters; recreational fishers; and lobster trapping,” according to the notice. “The danger zone and nearby area are transited by many visitors on recreational boats throughout the day and night. Commenters stated that stray rounds so close to the entrance to San Diego Bay was ‘absolutely unacceptable.’ They also noted that vessels returning from Mexico would have no idea what the SAR warning flags along the shoreline indicate and may inadvertently travel through the danger zone.”

But costly alternatives, such as enclosing the gun range, were regarded as unrealistic in light of the federal budget deficit, and the regulation will take effect June 10. “Department of Navy munitions experts have assured the Corps that the SAR design and safety features will prevent ricochets from exiting the SAR with the exception of a rare ricochet that may reach the danger zone in the Pacific Ocean.”

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