Thousands of Citizens Oppose Air Force Proposal for Expanded F-16 Training Over the Gila
Twenty-six organizations and more than 12,000 individuals submitted hundreds of pages of comments and supporting documentation in opposition to the Air Force’s proposal to expand its Holloman Air Force Base (AFB) F-16 pilot training airspace over the Gila Wilderness. [Comments can be accessed here.]
“Communities throughout southwest New Mexico strongly oppose F-16 training over the Gila. It doesn’t make sense that the Air Force wants to fly an additional 10,000 F-16 training flights every year, when it acknowledges that it already has adequate airspace to fulfill its training mission at Holloman,” stated Allyson Siwik, Gila Conservation Coalition Executive Director and partner in Peaceful Gila Skies.
“This training disrupts the peace and quiet of our rural communities, destroys outdoor recreation and wilderness experiences, puts us at increased risk of wildfire from flares, and pollutes our environment. We shouldn’t sacrifice the Gila, America’s first wilderness, and our tourism and outdoor recreation economies when there are better places for this training,” said Todd Schulke, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity.
As part of the public comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), citizen commenters argue that Holloman can use its current airspace to meet its stated needs and therefore the No Action Alternative should be selected.
Excerpts from comments:
“…earlier National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents, along with the DEIS, strongly suggest that Holloman AFB with its access to the vast, adjacent White Sands Missile Range and other assigned Military Operations Areas (MOAs), has enough airspace already.”
“The Air Force’s need for such a large amount of new airspace is poorly presented in the DEIS. Worse, the needs as stated in the DEIS have recently been contradicted by Holloman personnel in public statements.”
“Of the action alternatives, Alternative 1 – expansion of the Talon MOA east of Holloman AFB — has the least impacts to the environment. Alternatives 2 and 3 propose new/expanded MOAs and Air Traffic Control Assigned Airspace (ATCAAs) over the rugged and remote Gila Wilderness Area, the nation’s first designated wilderness, and many surrounding wild places, including Mt. Withington and Apache Kid Wilderness Areas in the Cibola National Forest and the Robledo Mountain and Sierra de las Uvas Wilderness Areas in the new Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. Alternative 1, on the other hand, proposes additional airspace east of Holloman AFB, in areas that have been heavily impacted by oil and gas production–the exact opposite of wilderness.”
Additionally, because the DEIS is inadequate in almost every respect, citizen commenters requested that the document be redone or supplemented.
The DEIS is essentially a catalog of dimensions and data lists that are not actually analyzed. The Air Force’s job was to assess the impacts the Proposed Action could have on the communities that would be below the F-16 training activities and then analyze how those impacts vary amongst the three action alternatives. Not only is the analysis of impacts limited and missing key elements, but the comparison of impacts between the alternatives is dishonest.”.
“Except for geographical scale, the DEIS asserts that impacts that could be caused by the three alternatives are nearly indistinguishable. In fact, there would be very significant differences. The DEIS negligently dismisses impacts to general aviation, local communities, outdoor recreation and tourism, wildlife, livestock, threatened and endangered species, forests, and rivers and streams as minimal.”
“The excessive noise that would result from F-16s training over the Gila and Cibola National Forests is analyzed in the DEIS using outdated metrics that are inappropriate when analyzing noise impacts to quiet areas. Yet quiet areas are exactly what would be placed at risk by this proposal, particularly the many wilderness and wild lands west of the Rio Grande.’
“The noise and other impacts that F-16 training could cause would obviously have a negative impact on the economies of communities in the Gila region for which outdoor recreation and tourism are important. Yet the Air Force, in the DEIS, throws up its hands and falsely asserts such socioeconomic impacts cannot be calculated.”
“We are very concerned that if Alternatives 2 or 3 are approved, the new/expanded MOAs over the Gila could be linked up with adjacent MOAs in New Mexico and Arizona to create a huge airspace for military training. The DEIS concedes this in passing, but disingenuously downplays the impact. We know that the Air Force is also working to optimize its Special Use Airspace (SUA) in Arizona. The result could be the largest contiguous military training airspace in the continental United States.”
Contact: Allyson Siwik, Executive Director, Gila Conservation Coalition
575.590.7619 cell; 575.538.8078 office