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Flight fight enters Valley air space

Posted: Tuesday, Oct 4th, 2011

ALAMOSA — Part of the San Luis Valley is included in proposed military flight training routes out of Cannon Air Force Base-New Mexico.

As part of its process for developing a new low-altitude training area (LATA), the Air Force is conducting an environmental assessment, now in draft form. The public may comment on that draft until November 5. The final decision will be made by Air Force headquarters in conjunction with military officials in Washington D.C.

During a public meeting in Alamosa on Monday, Air Force spokesmen presented the proposal regarding training flights and accepted public comment. Several area residents spoke during the Monday meeting and some members of the group met before the meeting to discuss their concerns about the proposal.

Members of the “Peaceful Skies Coalition” out of New Mexico and the Piñon Canyon organization “Not 1 More Acre!” shared information with Valley residents during that pre-session.

Most of the residents who spoke during the public comment session recommended that the public comment period be extended and the environmental review be more extensive.

AF presents its side

Colonel Larry Munz, acting 27th Special Operations Wing vice commander at Cannon, presented the Air Force’s proposal Monday night following an introduction by Alamosa Mayor Pro Tem Josef Lucero.

Munz said flight training in the proposed LATA would assist pilots in dealing with mountainous terrain, avoiding detection, coordinating with their crews and understanding their aircrafts. By having a larger area to train in, pilots would be able to vary routes and become more effective than with canned routes, Munz said.

He said the Air Force plans on using two aircraft in the proposed LATA, the CV-22 Osprey and the MC-130J.

Munz added that for the most effective training space, the proposed training area needs to be adequately sized, provide varied terrain, avoid population centers and be close to Cannon Air Force Base. The proposed LATA covers about 60,700 square miles, reduced from the originally proposed 90,000, in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. The area excludes the cities of Taos and Alamosa and the San Luis Valley counties of Alamosa and Costilla.

Planes would not fly lower than 300 feet, Munz said, with a maximum of 688 flights a year, or no more than three training missions per weeknight. Most would be after dark, he added.

“No decision has been made,” Munz said.

He said a final decision could be to: go with the proposed LATA; go with a “no action alternative” that would restrict training to existing designated areas; or require a more extensive environmental impact statement.

To view the proposal go to www.cannon.af.mil/library/environment.asp

To make comments on the draft environmental assessment email

27SOW.PA.NEPA@cannon.af.mil; fax 575-784-7412; write to 27 SOW/PA, 110 E. Sextant, Suite 1150, Cannon AFB, NM 88103; or for more information call 575-784-4131.

Opponents speak out

Carol and Larry Miller of Peaceful Skies Coalition (www.peacefulskies.org; 575-776-8486; email peacefulskies@taosnet.com) met with several area residents before the Air Force public meeting and encouraged residents to contact representatives and senators to ask them to extend the comment period, require a more in depth environmental study and enact a funding ban on this project. They said the current environmental assessment is inadequate and faulty.

They said the Air Force had not adequately alerted the public to the meetings or provided the environmental plan in enough public areas where people could readily access it. They accused the Air Force of out right lying and questioned the need for the proposed LATA. They said other (and sufficient) flight areas are already in place.

Jean Aguerre of Not 1 More Acre! (www.not1moreacre.net) said the Air Force already has access to more than half the airspace in the U.S. right now.

“How much is enough?” she asked.

Some of the concerns shared with local residents were wildlife impacts such as adverse effects on nocturnal wildlife predators, noise, high tech “flying and spying” operations, inexperienced pilots flying overhead and planes potentially malfunctioning, use of drones and robotic warfare training and excessive spending for military expansion when the communities affected by the training exercises often are struggling to keep their schools and health centers open.

Aguerre urged people to contact elected officials but said U.S. senators are hard to sway on military matters because they receive so much campaign funding from military contractors. The average federal senatorial race in Colorado runs about $30 million, she said.

“They are completely open to anybody who’s got the money, and the military contractors have it,” Aguerre said.

“They are the number one driver of the U.S. economy.”

She said the best move would be to approach U.S. Representatives Scott Tipton of Colorado and Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico to enact a funding ban in the house appropriations committee. Carol Miller said Tipton was the only person who had staff at the Air Force meetings. Two Tipton staff members attended the meeting in Alamosa.

Area resident Dave Montgomery said he did not want people to think he was unpatriotic but was opposed to this military expansion.

Carol Miller said some of the Peaceful Skies Coalition’s strongest supporters have been Air Force veterans who testified that the Air Force had enough space to train already.

Aguerre said many people from rural areas serve in the Armed Forces and their communities care deeply for them and are concerned that the military spends so much more on planes and high tech weapons than on its soldiers who do not make a living wage.

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