Winter to San Diego: Miramar is off limits
By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday May 16, 2007 21:14:10 EDT

SAN DIEGO — Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter thought he heard the last of the fury last year from local officials who’ve long been hot to get their hands on Miramar Marine Corps Air Station to convert into an international airport.

But when he arrived for a breakfast meeting of the regional business group on Wednesday, among the fact sheets and other items of note Winter saw was an issuance from the regional airport authority, the de facto leader of the still-unsuccessful fight to get Miramar and convert it for civilian use.

During his first visit here last year as Navy secretary, Winter tackled numerous questions about Miramar and possibilities of joint or civilian use. Local voters rejected the idea in a countywide ballot last year, which was a symbolic gesture since Navy officials weren’t offering Miramar for any alternate uses.

But the first question posed to him during Wednesday’s question-and-answer session with chamber members was an echo of the recent past: Will Miramar fit into the region’s long-term plans for a larger airport?

The question came a day after the Federal Aviation Administration singled out San Diego’s Lindbergh Field, a single-runway downtown airport, as one of 14 civilian airports nationwide that will need more capacity between now and 2025.

“There are no plans whatsoever,” responded Winter, speaking before several hundred attending a monthly gathering of the San Diego Military Affairs Council at the Admiral Kidd Club. “Miramar is now and forever will be critical” to support the Navy and the Marine Corps.”

Years of base closures and realignments have left little room to change that view since the Navy and Marine Corps have fewer air bases and airfields for training and operations, he explained. “We have truly lost the elasticity of the facilities,” he noted. “We just don’t have the flexibility that we used to.”

Sitting down with several reporters after the breakfast, the Miramar question remained on Winter’s radar.

“I really thought the Miramar issue was behind us,” he said, surprised at the lack of understanding some community members have of the military.

Miramar’s importance, he said, isn’t just to support the short-term needs of the Marine Corps and other military forces continuing to fight and operate in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf region. The services must deal with the long-term demands of supporting and sustaining military operations and missions on a global scale, more so “than we did in the Cold War” era.