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Join the fight against military flyovers

Dear Editor:

I am writing in reference to the low-altitude tactical navigation training flights (LATA) being proposed over the mountains and valleys of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

The U.S. Air Force at Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico plans to fly CV-22 Osprey and C-130 tanker planes on nighttime training flights in mountainous terrain. The large, loud, propeller planes would fly at altitudes as low as 300 feet, five nights per week, three flights per night, at speeds up to 250 knots. They will be “simulating real-world combat conditions” and practicing war games and spy technology over these mountains and valleys. Our skies will be militarized indefinitely (this is not a time-limited proposal).

The proposed training area includes 60,700 square miles of wild mountainous and forested terrain, including the entire San Juans, the Elks, the Maroon Bells, the Sawatch Range, and the Uncompaghre Plateau. This includes migratory bird flyways, wildlife refuges, endangered species habitats, sacred Native American sites, private farming and ranching regions, and all of the silent wild places which are both a home for wildlife and a source of renewal and recreation for people from all over the world. There are hunters, wranglers, hikers, anglers, climbers, campers, boaters, bikers, skiers, spiritual seekers and artists spread everywhere throughout these mountains. There is no other place like this, from the quality of the light to the jagged 14,000-foot peaks. This area is unique. It is because of this uniqueness that people come here, people who are the mainstay of the $6.5 billion tourism economies of the small mountain towns scattered throughout this area.

The size, noise, pollution, and low elevation of these planes would cause huge impacts on wildlife, livestock, geotourism, tinder-dry forests, watersheds, property values, Native American spiritual sites, etc. These helicopters, known to be unstable, recommended to be canceled by the Department of Defense in 1998, will be flying and refueling in the dark at low altitude, over drought-ridden forests. The potential for disastrous forest fires is immense, as well as chemical contamination of our streams and watersheds.

The Air Force has recently released a Draft Environmental Assessment under the National Environmental Protection Act, with a deadline of Nov. 5. The 60-day response period is far too short for the huge area and number of people that will be affected by this. While the Air Force claims that the flights will avoid towns, wilderness areas or noise sensitive areas, none of these areas are mapped in the current plans.

The Peaceful Skies Coalition and many municipalities, counties, and organizations are demanding the no-action alternative, a 60-day comment-period extension, and that the Air Force proceed with an Environmental Impact Statement, a more comprehensive analysis of the effects of LATN.

Please visit our website, for more information, including maps of the proposed area, proclamations from other groups and municipalities, to send a comment letter, and to join our coalition by signing onto our “Shared Values Statement.”

Jameson Wells

Peaceful Skies Coalition

Arroyo Hondo, N.M.

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