“More disconcerting is that I got a number of calls from people — and this is a Navy community, with a lot of Navy retired, like myself — who said, ‘Hey, I agree with you, but I’m not going to say a word.’ And, as I interpret it, they’re saying, ‘I enjoy my life here in Coronado. I don’t want to rock any boats. I want to be able to walk into the clubs, go to the store, play golf, and all of that, and not have people mad at me.’ I have not had a soul say, ‘Hey, I disagree with you. I’ve looked at the situation, and hell, there’s no problem.’ ”
Fitzgerald’s solution to the problem would involve more than a changed traffic pattern; he also wants the Navy to “clear space” around the carriers, as the government has done around the White House, for example. “And around the Pentagon, too. I compare our situation here with the naval base at Norfolk.” Fitzgerald was stationed in Norfolk at various times in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. “And they’ve got six aircraft carriers there, and submarines, and surface ships — in other words, everything on one base that we’ve got on North Island, Point Loma, and 32nd Street. And they’ve got interstate highway spurs that lead right onto the base. But the difference is that the gates are well away from the carriers. The nearest gate is about half a mile from them. And when the traffic enters the gate, trucks have to turn and are vectored away, over to another area, where they are screened. And so only the traffic that has legitimate business with them goes out anywhere near the carriers.”
Norfolk didn’t always have as much space around its fleet as it currently does, said Fitzgerald. “Over time a decision was made, when new buildings went up, to build them away from the waterfront. And so, gradually, they’ve been very successful at getting all of the industrial, day-to-day, nonwaterfront-type stuff away from all of the ships, and the carriers in particular. At North Island, they built new buildings even closer to the carriers than the buildings that they replaced! It’s absurd, from a security standpoint.”
Asked what the Navy’s response to his concerns has been, Fitzgerald said he has had several conversations with a civilian public-affairs officer, Ken Mitchell, but has received no response from anyone else in the Navy. “They have not put anything in writing, and I frankly don’t blame them. I mean, I wouldn’t. And I don’t expect to engage them in any type of dialogue. I just want results. And granted, they’re putting up a fence here and they’re putting up light poles there. But their focus has really, really, really been on the sea. And as a sailor I can attest to the fact that they’re very aggressive as I’m cruising along in a little old tiny wooden sailboat in which I can probably pack about one one-hundredth of the explosive power that I could fit into my car.”
Mitchell, at the mention of Fitzgerald’s name, did not hide his exasperation. “People tend to forget there are 25,000 people on base. It’s a misconception to think we aren’t doing everything we can to maintain their safety.” He listed ways that Coronado benefits from having the Navy as its neighbor. He said the Navy saved the city “half a million dollars a year” by supplementing its fire protection. He also said that he would answer only those questions put to him in writing.
Q: Does the Navy feel that the carriers are in any danger from land-based terrorist attacks when they are in port?
A: The Navy, like any governing body, has security personnel and procedures to protect their personnel and assets from any danger that may arise.
Q: What precautions does the Navy take to insure that there is no danger?
A: The Navy Region Southwest has a very aggressive security program that encompasses not only Navy assists but those from City, County, State and Federal agencies. They are all part of the process that develops the force protection policy that is used for San Diego.
Q: Have these precautions been altered in recent months, years, with the increased threats of terrorist attacks?
A: Security procedures are reviewed daily and adjusted as needed to address the present force protection needs.
Q: What exactly is the procedure when a truck approaches the gate?
A: We feel it is not in the best interest of the Navy or community to discuss security procedures or how we inspect vehicles or personnel.
Q: How many cars and trucks a day come through the gate?
A: With one carrier in port the average number of vehicles entering NASNI is 18,000; with two carriers in port, 21,000; and with three carriers in port, 23,000. The average number of trucks entering the First Street Gate is [approximately] 100 each day. This varies, based on the number of ships in port and any construction projects on base. It should be noted that truck traffic on a truck route designated by the City of Coronado, the impact the residents feel it has on their quality of life, and Navy force protections issues are not always the same.
Some people worry that if terrorists tried to blow up one of San Diego’s nuclear-powered carriers, never mind whether with a small boat or a truck filled with explosives, its reactors could be damaged, creating a radiological disaster for North Island as well as the surrounding community. Another Navy public-affairs officer, Commander Edgar Buclatin, was asked if such damage would be possible, given the construction of the carriers. He responded in an e-mail, “Security measures have been heightened across the country since September 11, 2001, to thwart a terrorist attack. Aircraft carriers have thick armor plating and complex compartmentation designed to survive battle damage, including damage from explosives used on the hull. The robust reactor plants are located deep within the ship, are designed to survive battle shock, have redundant systems, and protect the crew during combat.”