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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman John Salazar, joined by Reps. Markey, Perlmutter, Polis, and DeGette, wrote Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command and Col. Stephen A. Clark, Commander of the 27th Special Operations Wing raising concerns with proposed Low-Altitude Tactical Navigation (LATN) in Southern Colorado and urging them to hold public meetings in Southern Colorado.

Salazar has heard concerns from residents of the Third Congressional District regarding additional low altitude flights.  Such concerns range from impact on air medical services to airway congestion obstructing civilian aviation.  He shares these concerns and encouraged public meetings in affected areas to allow Coloradoans an opportunity to express their views and hear more about the proposal.

The text of the letter is attached below:

October 08, 2010

Lt. General Donald Wurster
Commander
Air Force Special Operations Command
Hurlburt Field, FL 32544

Dear Lt. General Wurster:

We write to you to express our constituent’s concerns regarding the USAF’s proposed low-altitude tactical navigation (LATN) area in northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado.  We are particularly worried about the impact that this proposal would have on existing civilian and military aviation in Colorado as well as encroachment upon agriculture, wilderness areas, ski areas and other natural treasures.

With that in mind we want to thank you for extending the comment period so that Coloradoans can make their concerns known before the process moves forward.  We ask that you continue by holding public meetings in the affected areas across Colorado.  Our constituents are rightfully concerned with the potential impact of LATN.

With respect to small rural aviation, because of the region in question, we share our constituent concerns that LATN could negatively impact existing civilian operations.  Civilian operations are an integral part of daily life for many of our residents in the southern counties.  In terms of safety, we are concerned that LATN could impede rotary wing air medical operations.  We have seen this take place in Dove Creek, Oxford, Pagosa Springs and other communities in the proposed LATN area.  Civilian aviation is necessary in bridging terrain and distance in Colorado.  This becomes a safety concern when considering the effect upon rotary wing air medical services.  Having navigable airspace can be a matter of life and death in the mountains and remote regions of the state for our hikers, climbers and other outdoorsmen.  We are also mindful that night maneuvers can present dangerous situations for aircraft operating at 200 feet above ground level and will require tight coordination to prevent possible collisions.

We are also concerned about the potential impact of LATN on military operations in Colorado.  The Colorado Air National Guard (COANG) has established Military Operations Areas in Colorado, all but one of which is in the proposed LATN area.  These areas as well as the low-level flight routes are essential training assets to the 140th Fighter Wing, which provides the only Air Sovereignty Alert response in the central United States.  The proposed LATN brings to mind the Colorado Airspace Initiative and the subsequent Custer County Action Association v. Garvey (99-9543) trial, in which several Colorado communities brought litigation against a proposal to increase military airspace in this region.  Though the case was decided in favor of the Air Force, the net result was the loss of a COANG low-level route.  We are concerned that a proposal of the magnitude of the LATN could invite further litigation and ignore the historical issues associated with military airspace in Colorado.

The concern also arises as to the impact on other existing military operations.  The 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, an integral military asset in the central United States, trains extensively in the mountains of Colorado.  The DOD’s sole mountain training site for rotary wing aviators resides in Gypsum, Colorado. HAATS, the High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site where day, night, and night vision goggle helicopter flight training is conducted 50 weeks per year.  This is in addition to rapid response civilian search and rescue missions.  These are missions that are critical for operations in Afghanistan.  The addition of flights to the aforementioned missions increases our concerns for congestion, encroachment and collision issues.

Colorado’s unique terrain draws people from around the world to enjoy unparalleled skiing, rock climbing, backpacking and other outdoor pastimes.  Established wilderness and recreation areas enjoy various levels of protection that have been forged out of years of legislative, legal and personal efforts, resulting in a dynamic and ongoing relationship between ground, air and waterborne motorized vehicle operators and those who seek the solitude that the mountains offer.  The current scope of the LATN proposal would have a detrimental impact on the current balance in Colorado and discounts the longstanding partnerships that have been created by Colorado stakeholders.

Finally, there appear to be discrepancies included in the supporting documents of the number of proposed training sorties and the altitudes at which those missions will be flown.  Documents released by the 27th Special Operation Wing describe various plans that range from one to six LATN flights per 24-hour period at altitudes of between 200 and 250 feet. We hope that these issues will be addressed during the extended comment period, and we would ask that you resolve these and any other discrepancies as soon as possible in order to ensure that all parties have a correct understanding of the proposal.

Our constituents are proud to do their part to contribute to the defense of our nation.  Generations of Coloradoans have answered the call of duty with honor and served with distinction.  The residents of our state want an opportunity to share their concerns before decisions are finalized so that a balance can be reached that benefits both civilian and military use of the airspace.  We continue to lend our support to DOD operations in our state and anticipate reaching a solution that promotes national defense operations while maintaining continuity of existing services and civilian operations.

Sincerely,

/s/                                                                                 /s/
John T. Salazar                                                           Diana DeGette
Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress

/s/                                                                                 /s/
Ed Perlmutter                                                              Jared Polis
Member of Congress                                                   Member of Congress

/s/
Betsy Markey
Member of Congress

Cc: Colonel Stephen A. Clark
Commander, 27th Special Operations Wing
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http://www.house.gov/apps/list/press/co03_salazar/PR_100810.html