Air Force gathers public reaction to air expansion

Under the expansion, supersonic operations would be authorized at altitudes of 5,000 to 6,000 feet above ground level in seven counties across eastern New Mexico. (Cannon Air Force Base Public Affairs)

By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers

FORT SUMNER — A Cannon Air Force Base proposal to expand military airspace met resistance and support during a public meeting Thursday night.

But at times talk of airspace translated into a gripe session on a variety of other issues, including a tumbleweed problem some ranchers and farmers have come to blame on the Air Force.

Col. Christopher Ceplecha, CAFB deputy commander of operations, said the expansion is vital in their war against terrorists because technology has allowed the terrorists to evolve. Ceplecha said the Cannon airspace is limited and if the expansion is approved can be comparable to other bases such as Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nev., and Mountain Home Air Force Base in Boise, Idaho — both bases with topnotch airspace.

“We have to modify the airspace to allow for effective training,” Ceplecha said. “The airspace, currently, configuration does not allow us to train effectively.”

But Betty Greathouse, who lives in Portales and owns a ranch in Floyd, was not receptive to the idea of the expansion.

“I believe we should be good stewards of our land,” Greathouse said. “The Air Force doesn’t seem to be good stewards of their land. We’ll be here forever. It’s our land.”
But some in attendance greeted the proposal.

“I’m so thankful for them (CAFB),” Mary Andreas, who has lived in Fort Sumner since 1950, said. “I have a different perspective because our family was military. Anything to help them. I’m supportive of their efforts.”

Ross Greathouse of Portales said the expansion is an invasion of his and other ranchers’ properties.

“It’s hard for me to understand how much space Cannon Air Force Base takes over,” Ross Greathouse said. “Take over and take over and we relinquish or rights. I’m trying to be a good citizen in our country. Where does it stop? It never stops.”

Don Scurlock, who has lived in Fort Sumner for six years, said he has dealt with the Air Force in different situations for the last 37 years. He said he’s had his window broken by a sonic boom, but did not want to waste the taxpayers’ money by filing a claim.

Other residents feel different events have led to problems with Cannon, such as the tumbleweed issue. Some Roosevelt County residents say the tumbleweed issue stems from the Air Force not grazing Melrose Bombing Range.

“I had to work for six hours to clear the tumbleweeds at my house,” said Sharon Russell of Floyd. “I tried to take the tumbleweeds out. It doesn’t seem fair.”

It is an issue Cannon regards as a force of nature. And Roosevelt County commissioners agreed at a recent meeting that non-military land has also led to tumbleweed problems for residents.

In the know

• Cannon Air Force Base seeks to expand its military airspace to allow pilots to fly lower and faster. If approved, the airspace would increase by 700 square miles to 3,300 square miles. Changes proposed in the expanded areas include lowering the altitude pilots can fly from 1,000 feet above ground to 500 feet above ground, and allowing pilots to fly at supersonic speeds at approximately 6,000 feet above ground, instead of 26,000 feet above ground.

• Why the Air Force wants to expand — Military officials say the proposed airspace expansion — the New Mexico Training Range Initiative — would better prepare pilots for combat.

• Environmental impact of expansion — A 421-page report released earlier this month documenting the effects of the proposed airspace expansion estimates increased noise that could be intrusive but would cause no damage to animals or humans.
The report also estimated a threefold increase in sonic booms, from an average of one a week to two every three days.

• Concerns from those affected by airspace — Some ranchers and farmers living under the airspace say increased noise would negatively impact their way of life. The threefold increase of sonic booms and the lower ceiling would bring planes closer, and could increase anxiety among livestock, something the 421-page report confirmed.
Some ranchers have said the expansion could also devalue their land, something the report estimated was unlikely.

• What is a sonic boom? — A sonic boom, or shock wave, happens when planes break the sound barrier, usually when they react to a threat, either through acceleration or breaking strong in either direction.

In rare circumstances sonic booms can rattle barns and shatter windows.

Pilots flying at supersonic speeds do so to avoid conflict with enemies.

— Compiled by CNJ News Editor Mike Linn

2003 — Idea for airspace expansion and initial gathering of information.
January 2004 — Air Force officials present airspace expansion proposal to public. Four public meetings held in areas affected by proposed expansion.
Spring 2004 — Air Force gathers information from public meetings, begins analysis of proposal’s impact to environment.
Summer of 2004 — Air Force officials review analysis of environmental impact statement.
Jan. 7 — Environmental impact statement released to public, beginning a 45-day public comment period.
Jan. 24-28 — Legal hearings in Roswell, Clovis, Santa Rosa and Fort Sumner. The legal hearings allow the public to discuss concerns with Air Force officials.
Feb. 21 — Last day for public to express concerns regarding proposed airspace expansion.
Feb. 22 — Air Force officials begin to compile final information to be added to the environmental impact statement.
Fall — Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration are expected to either approve or deny the proposal by October.
Implementation — If approved the FAA would decide when the proposal would be implemented.

Source: Cannon Air Force Base Public Affairs