Reports due on low-altitude Air Force flights

The Associated Press

DURANGO, Colo. — Colorado and New Mexico residents worried about an Air Force proposal to start low-altitude training flights are putting finishing touches on their arguments against the plan.

The Air Force has extended until Monday a deadline to submit concerns about its proposal to start the training out of Cannon Air Force Base.

The Durango Herald reports that the training plan has sparked worries from residents who say the noise could spook livestock and wildlife and even contribute to avalanches.

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. The Air Force says training would consist of about three sorties in a 24-hour period.

Capt. Larry van der Oord, a spokesman for Cannon Air Force Base, said the Air Force has received 1,500 to 1,600 comments.

“There’s been a range of issues mentioned,” van der Oord said. “But probably the single biggest one is noise.”

A final decision won’t come for nine months to a year, he said.

Cliff Bain with the New Mexico-based Peaceful Skies Coalition said Friday his group is lining up a legal team for an appeal if the decision calls for less than an environmental impact statement.

Bain was a member of a group that in 2000 helped defeat an Air Force plan to train B-52 and B-1 bomber crews northern New Mexico.

Chip Tuthill of the San Juan chapter of the Colorado Mountain Club told the newspaper that low-flying military planes in the wild would hurt outdoor tourism.

Tuthill recalled two low-flying fighter jets that passed above him 15 to 20 years ago in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

“We were hiking at the edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness,” Tuthill said. “Suddenly there was a noise like a tornado and the trees were shaking. That’s not my idea of a wilderness experience.”

Julia Crawford of Mancos, a mountain hiker but not a club member, didn’t hear about the Air Force plan until a few days ago.

“I think there are a lot of potential impacts,” Crawford said. “It would be nice if this weren’t in our backyard.”

The San Juan Citizens Alliance says that as many as 25 conservation groups may submit opposition to the low-altitude training.