Pitkin County weighs in on Air Force flights | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County weighs in on Air Force flights

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Staff Sgt. Markus Maier/U.S. Air Force photoAn Air Force CV-22 Osprey flies over New Mexico.

ASPEN – Pitkin County has joined an anticipated collection of conservation groups that are concerned about a U.S. Air Force proposal to conduct low-altitude tactical navigation training flights over northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

Noise and its impacts are the big concern for many. The potential effect on everything from livestock and wildlife to a slide-prone snowpack have cropped up as worries, according to The Durango Herald.

The Air Force extended until Monday the deadline to submit concerns about the planned training out of Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. The county submitted a letter signed by Board of County Commissioners Chairman George Newman in advance of the original, Oct. 4 deadline, as the flights could range over local terrain.

The county voiced a host of concerns and questions regarding the plan, and is leaning toward opposing the expanded training airspace, or at least opposing flights over Pitkin County. But commissioners said they would reserve their final comments until more information is made available.

In the letter, commissioners urged an in-depth environmental impact analysis of the proposal, as opposed to the less formal environmental analysis process.

Their letter calls on Air Force officials to provide information about the need for the expansion of training airspace, to identify the routes currently used out of Cannon Air Force Base, and to consider the cumulative impacts to human and wildlife populations if flights occur over new areas of mountain terrain.

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The county also asked that the “large human populations” that will be avoided by the aircraft be defined, noting local rural areas are populated at lower densities by people who will be affected by the noise of low-flying aircraft.

The letter also asks that the “noise sensitive areas” – places that the military aircraft must avoid – be defined, and asks that noise impacts on wildlife and critical habitat be analyzed.

“Consider input from the state Divisions of Wildlife regarding impacts to wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service regarding potential impacts to the quality of experience for all users of public lands, including but not limited to ski areas and wilderness-designated lands,” the letter reads.

Noise-induced avalanches, and the resulting safety issues and cost of cleanup or rescues, is also a concern, said the county. And, the county asked that the crash rate for the envisioned types of training flights be disclosed, and that the cost of crash-related wildfires be considered.

According to The Durango Herald, various conservation groups were expected to submit opposition to the training.

Capt. Larry van der Oord, a spokesman for Cannon Air Force Base, said the Air Force has already received 1,500 to 1,600 comments, the Herald and Associated Press reported.

The military says the training would prepare crews of C-130s and CV-22 Osprey for terrain similar to what they would find in Afghanistan. Training would consist of about three sorties in a 24-hour period, the Herald and AP reported.

A final decision is not expected before nine months to a year.

janet@aspentimes.com