by Lisa Cyriacks

The US Air Force is seeking input regarding potential environmental impacts for a proposed  “low altitude tactical navigation” (LATN) area in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. The LATN would provide airspace to operate C-130 and CV-22 aircraft for training purposes and to train aircrew members and conduct military flight activities that may include, but are not limited to, air combat maneuvers and low altitude tactics.

The proposed LATN area stretches from east of Colorado Springs to the Colorado-Utah border and from Leadville south into New Mexico to areas around Albuquerque.  This includes the San Luis Valley in its entirety.  Mountainous terrain best supports development of special operations mobility skills. The proposed LATN area in Colorado and New Mexico was selected due to the varied topography and weather, proximity to Cannon AFB, and lack of large civilian populations.

The first of two comment periods ends October 4, 2010.  Comments from this process will be used to focus the environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. The second comment period will occur after the draft Environmental Assessment has been written.

The Air Force would like input concerning the proposed action and alternatives, as well as issues to address in the Environmental Assessment. To view information on the proposal to establish a Low Altitude

Tactical Navigation area, visit www.cannon.af.mil/index.asp.  For more information or to make comments contact 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs at 575-784-4131 or 27SOWpublicaffairs@cannon.af.mil by October 4, 2010.

The current resource areas identified to be included in the analysis are:  airspace management, noise, air quality, safety, biological communities (terrestrial, wetland, and aquatic), threatened and endangered species, cultural resources (archeological, architectural, Native American and traditional resources), land use, recreation, visual impacts, socioeconomic, and environmental justice.

In brief, for each sortie, approximately three hours would be spent on training in the LATN area and the remainder of the five-hour flight would be spent training at Melrose Range or a local airfield near Cannon Air Force Base, Clovis, NM.

Aircraft would fly as low as 200 feet above-ground-level at speeds below 250 nautical miles per hour (subsonic speed or less than the speed of sound) as often as three times a day.  This would result in approximately 688 flights annually.  The majority of training flights would take place after dusk and approximately 95 percent would take place Monday through Friday. Aircrews are prohibited from flying over the same point more than once per day.

The flights would be forbidden over towns, airfields and wilderness areas. Airdrops are not proposed for the area. The sole objective of the LATN area is to support low-level flight training operations.

Previous military training flights have been a source of consternation throughout southern Colorado.  More than a decade ago F-16 training flights by the Air National Guard prompted an unsuccessful lawsuit that was appealed to the US Supreme Court, which upheld the flights.

In response to these F-16 flights over a decade ago, local volunteers from the Crestone/Baca community formed the Open Space Alliance.  Their efforts to reach a collaborative agreement with the Air National Guard resulted in a re-alignment of the route in such a way that it did not pass over Crestone/Baca or any other population centers in the valley.

Glenn Ennis of the Open Space Alliance commented that it took many years and attending lots of meetings to accomplish this task.  “The key change that made all the difference was garnering assistance from Senator Wayne Allard’s office,” Ennis remarked.

When asked his opinion concerning this latest development with flyovers by the US Air Force, his advice was “Approach the federal senators, especially Senator Udall who was involved in the previous discussions, to extend the comment period and ask for an Environmental Impact Statement which is more comprehensive than an Environmental Assessment.

“This is a huge project—involving a huge geographical area,” Ennis continued.  “The key is determining how much of an impact from these activities would result for Crestone/Baca and for Saguache County.  It is hard to determine this from the broad descriptions included on the website.”

map of the proposed Air Force flyover area

Map of the proposed Air Force flyover area