Air Force cuts some training flights in new plan

The Associated Press

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — The Air Force says it determined that its controversial proposal for low-level night-time training flights over New Mexico and Colorado would have no significant impact on the environment, but still made adjustments to proposed fly-zones.

A map released with an updated proposal last week cut out planned flights over northern New Mexico’s population corridor from Albuquerque north through Santa Fe and Taos. It also removed proposed flights over Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Trinidad in Colorado.

In addition to cutting back some areas for the flights, the Air Force proposed letting the flights go as low as 300 feet rather the 200 feet initially proposed. It is seeking the flights, planned for after dusk, to help the Air Force train in mountain conditions.

The military branch found the plan had “no significant impact,” which would allow the Air Force to begin 688 proposed flights a year without going through a more rigorous process of developing a full-blown environmental impact statement.

But the finding is not final. The Air Force is putting the draft analysis, along with the revised plans, out for public comment through Nov. 5.

One group opposing the flights, the Peaceful Skies Coalition, said the Air Force’s finding makes a mockery of federal laws protecting the environment. Other opponents fear flights could disrupt wildlife and ranching.

“Our belief that the decision was made to put this program here, no matter way, has been shown to be true,” Cliff Bain, a leader of the coalition, told the Albuquerque Journal.

After the flights were first proposed last year, the Taos, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba county commissions, as well as the city councils of Taos and Las Vegas, passed resolutions opposing the flights. Other counties, such as Curry County, which is near the base, passed resolutions supporting the training flights.