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On Thursday, September 29, the Board of Rio Arriba County Commissioners passed Resolution 2011-23 comparing Cannon AFB’s planned takeover of Rio Arriba airspace for low altitude flight training to an act of war. This was their secong effort to make their voices heard. Resolution 2011-25 opposing the flyovers had already been passed.

At issue was an “environmental assessment” based on opinion rather than data, a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) that offered no justification for its assertions, and a public hearing in Espanola that was barely advertised.

In order to train pilots for low-altitude night flight in Afghanistan, Cannon AFB has announced its intention to conduct three five-hour missions per night (688 a year) over counties in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado including most of Rio Arriba.

Planes to be flown include the MC-130J and CV-22 (the infamous Osprey). After receiving a great deal of public criticism, Cannon altered its original plan, excluding populated areas and commercial airspace in this draft. The wealthy and politically connected communities of Los Alamos and Santa Fe were exempted as was Espanola, and the minimum flight requirement was raised from 200 feet above ground level to 300 feet. According to Cannon’s dubious Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI):

Approximately 10 percent of training missions would be flown between 300 and 500 feet (ft) Above Ground Level (AGL), 40 percent between 500 and 999 ft AGL, and 50 percent between 1,000 and 3,000 ft AGL.

Amazingly, without offering any evidence, the FONSI states that wildlife, the local economy, structures, ranching, hunting/camping and culture will not be effected.

Look for the Draft FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) and alleged Environmental Assessment from which these quotes are taken at this site. Send comments to this address before November 5: 27SOW.PA.NEPA@cannon.af.mil.

Most of the County of Rio Arriba, home to Hispanic ranching families pre-dating the United States, as well as the Jicarilla Apache reservation and the pueblos of Ohkay Owinge and Santa Clara, will be subjected to low level fights.

Many serious flaws have been pointed out in the Environmental Assessment at poorly publicized “community forums” (which should, in fact, be called “public hearings”). For example, the FONSI finds that wildlife will be unaffected by the flyovers even though the EA does not identify which wildlife inhabit the area or where they can be located in the fly-over zone.

The FONSI determines that the requirement to uphold environmental justice has been met:

Scoping comments expressed concerns about disproportionate effects on environmental justice populations. Twenty-one counties in Colorado are entirely or partially under the
proposed training area. Four of those counties have a higher percentage of minorities than the state as a whole and 17 of those counties have a lower percentage of minorities than the state. In New Mexico, 17 counties are entirely or partially under the proposed training area. Five of those counties have a higher percentage of minorities than the state as a whole and 12 counties have a lower percentage of minorities than the state. Similar conditions exist for low-income and youth populations. The Proposed Action would not have disproportionate effects to minorities, low income, or youth populations under the proposed training area.

Truchas Church

Since the purpose of the exercises is to train pilots to fly extremely close to the ground over mountainous terrain, it is unlikely that all areas of the proposed training ground will be equally affected by very low flights. More low flights are likely to occur over mountain passes and in rugged terrain than in flat areas. Native American Tribes such as the Ute, the Jicarilla Apache, Navajos and the Pueblos live in these areas as do many indigenous Hispanic ranchers. Rugged remote counties are also poorer and more heavily Hispanic, especially in New Mexico and southern Colorado. Moreover, elk, deer and other wildlife are also concentrated in these areas. It is unlikely that a large airplane flying 300 feet above a herd of any kind will not affect it. And the centuries-old adobe dwellings ubiquitous in northern New Mexico are unlikely to withstand damage from noise and vibrations in the same manner as the modern steel, brick and cement architecture tested for overflight in the “Environmental Assessment.”

I commented at the hearing in Santa Fe because the one in Espanola was so poorly advertised that few people knew about it. I heard about it at the last minute thanks to a blogger, Los Anjales. Carol Miller of the Peaceful Skies Coalition had alerted almost all of the people in attendance in Espanola. The only Air Force notification was a teeny advertisement buried deep within the B section of the local paper in four point font. I am not personally against the existence of a military. I am writing this diary because as a private citizen, I am completely offended by the lack of concern shown by the leadership of Cannon AFB about the safety and well-being of people in my community, by their arrogance, and by their willingness to completely discount us and for that reason, I agree with our Board of County Commissioners when they ask how Cannon AFB managed to acquire the ability to declare War on US Citizens without consulting Congress.

The Board of Rio Arriba County Commissioners is outraged and insulted at the cavalier attitude displayed by Cannon Air Force Base towards the safety and well-being of our citizens, whose taxes support the existence of this Base. We believe a comprehensive, independent environmental assessment based on data specific to the impacted area is necessary to determine the true extent of risk incurred by implementation of the proposed LATN plan; we require both that the hearing period be extended and that hearings be fully advertised. A second properly advertised public hearing must be held in Rio Arriba County with sufficient advance notice to all local government entities to insure we are able to study draft plans and assessments in advance and to raise public awareness about the time and place of the hearing. We insist that, despite the dubious FONSI assertion that no infringement of environmental justice has taken place, Cannon Air Force Base treat citizens of Rio Arriba County with respect, and that our Constitutional right as American Citizens to resist the military occupations of our homes and skies be honored.

One of the changes proposed in this draft as a result of public criticism is that Native American Tribes will now be able to prevent flyovers of important ceremonies by calling up the Air Force to tell them where and when the ceremony will be held. This proposal strikes me as preposterously insulting. Most of the tribes in our area do not tell one another where their ceremonies will be held, and would certainly not have an interest in informing the military that confined them to reservations in the first place.

Ranchers will also be allowed to call the Air Force to report where and when important activities such as branding, calving and shearing will occur. This fanciful suggestion is equally preposterous. It assumes that ranchers can predict without disruption caused by weather and other exigencies, where and when the event will occur. It also assumes they will have phone service and time to place the call.

Two county representatives (a commissioner from Santa Fe County and I) pointed out that Ospreys are prone to crashes, and that remote rural counties do not have HAZMAT capacity to respond to a crash. Moreover, some of you may remember the Las Conchas fire, which spread to over 160,000 acres in a few days. That fire was caused by a downed power line, and required three Type 1 Emergency Response teams to contain its spread.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the process, in my opinion, is that all comments on the sham Environmental Assessment and FONSI are to be sent to Cannon Air Force Base which will make the final decision. Since the Environmental Assessment appears to be a joke, the FONSI is completely unsubstantiated and the public notification process has been non-existent, I don’t see why we should believe administrators at Cannon Air Force Base will listen to comments by politically unconnected minorities.

The RACHC has invited speakers from Cannon AFB and Peaceful Skies to its October 12 meeting which is being held from 11-1 in the Rio Arriba Health Commons Conference Room (2010 Industrial Park Rd., Espanola). Hopefully, I will be proven wrong, and they will show up to speak with us. If not, don’t take my word for it. Read the documents yourself and be sure to send your comments to 27SOW.PA.NEPA@cannon.af.mil before November 5th.

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