Last week, the Marine Corps conducted a helicopter noise study along the coast of Del Mar to determine what residents along the I-15 corridor and in the south end of Del Mar and Carmel Valley already know: military helicopters make teeth-rattling noise, early and often.
The solution to the helicopter noise problem does not lie in shifting routes from the coast east, which simply pits one community's interests against another. While coastal communities handle close to two-thirds of all Marine helicopter flights, residents along I-15 continue to bear unacceptable impacts because the routes are directly over their heads.
Last month, the Marines moved a majority of their coastal flights south to what is now called the "Fairway Corridor," flying around 1000 feet over the 13th hole at Torrey Pines Golf Course on a vector of 280 degrees west and out to sea. This route and altitude shift has reduced sound impacts to south Carmel Valley, Sorrento Hills and Del Mar. If the Marines can stick to this part of the plan and settle into a route some miles off shore, peace could be in the wind on the coast.
But sticking to the coastal plan has proven problematic so far, and helicopter appearances near neighborhoods and beaches are still too common. The plan allows occasional authorized deviations from the Fairway Corridor, sending helicopters over Los Penasquitos Lagoon, businesses and neighborhoods when the route is overcrowded. This Beach Corridor deviation may be used for approximately 20 percent of the western flights, according to Marine officials.
It is also clear that cutting the corner prematurely over Sorrento Hills as they head home from a hard day or racing to work in the morning is a temptation a few pilots can't resist.
While we await the results of the noise study that will help determine how far west over the ocean the helicopters should fly, other solutions might be considered as well.
Base more helicopters at Camp Pendleton. As we understand, a substantial amount of the training occurs at Camp Pendleton, not Miramar. Many flights could be avoided if pilots took buses instead of flying north.
Bring the new more efficient and quieter V-22 Osprey aircraft to San Diego -- soon. Current plans call for testing these aircraft on the East Coast. Our Congressional delegation should push for Miramar to become the introduction site.
Train pilots to stick to the plan. Helicopter pilots must not be allowed to cut corners.
Fly the optional Beach Corridor only in urgent situations. The Fairway Corridor minimizes impacts to Del Mar and Sorrento Hills neighborhoods as well as to the beaches.
Basing helicopters in a growing urban environment was never a very good idea, if simply for the reason that it forced Marines to become community planners -- a task they are not equipped for and shouldn't have to spend their valuable time doing.
But, now that we are here, there are encouraging signs on the coast that peace is within sight.
Lisa Ross is a member of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board. Wayne Dunlap chairs the Torrey Pines Planning Group.