Council shows support for LATN area

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By Kirsten Laskey

Allowing servicemen and women in the U.S. Air Force to perform low mobility training to be better prepared for combat pushed Los Alamos County Councilors to support the proposed Low Altitude Tactical Navigation Area Tuesday night.
The council unanimously approved to not object to the Low Altitude Tactical Navigation Area that the 27th Special Operations Wing at the Cannon Air Force Base is proposing.
Council also approved an amendment to utilize some avenue such as the county’s Web site to provide information to the public about this training area.
In a presentation to councilors, Peter Soderquist, Los Alamos Airport manager, explained a Low Altitude Tactical Navigation Area is a geographic area within which low altitude navigation can be practiced. Altitudes, he said, are generally 500 feet but can descend to 200 feet and speeds are less than 250 knots or 280 miles per hour.
The area that is being proposed includes Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. The proposed training area does not include Los Alamos or White Rock. An alternative area does contain the town site, but White Rock is still exempted.
Soderquist added that the flight activity is in accordance to FAA flight rules and low attitude navigation training is not considered hazardous to other non-participating aircraft.
While training, Air Force pilots have to avoid airfields, towns, noise sensitive areas and wilderness areas. Moreover, participating aircraft are not allowed to fly over the same point twice in the same day.
There would be three flights a day and would take place after dusk, 95 percent of which would occur Monday through Friday, Soderquist said.
The proposed area was selected, he said, because of its mountainous terrain and weather. Proximity to Cannon Air Force Base and lack of large civilian populations also played a role along with the fact that existing military training routes are unsuitable.
Soderquist quoted the Special Operations Wing which stated, “These MTR’s do not provide access to aircrew training opportunities over high mountainous terrain needed to represent current real world taskings.”
Currently, he said, the Special Operations Wing is conducting an environmental assessment as well as doing outreach to Native Americans, the public and resource agencies.
They are also determining if an environmental impact statement needs to be conducted. If it doesn’t than a Finding of No Significant Impact will be issued. Comments regarding this decision are due on Nov 15.
Currently, Soderquist said 12 e-mails have been received from local residents on this issue. Six, he said, supported the training area and five were opposed. One cautioned the potential conflict the training might have with birds. Soderquist said as part of the environmental assessment, resource agencies, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Fish Wildlife would most likely address those concerns.
During public comment, two individuals who spoke on the issue took different positions on the issues.
Jim Hall of Los Alamos supported the proposal. He said it appeared as though Cannon Air Force Base was working to maintain relevance and usefulness in the Air Force.
He added the base offers a significant economic benefit to the state and he believes Los Alamos should support its neighbors’ economy as they should support Los Alamos’ economy.
Kristina Kershner of Los Alamos had a different viewpoint. She read her husband’s written objectives to the proposal which stated concerns about the impact the training would have on the quality of life in Los Alamos. Having a quiet community is a rare feature and one of the greatest things about the area is that individuals can get away from the noise of heavily populated areas, Kershner said.
Speaking for herself, Kershner said she and her husband support the air base but said “it is loud,” when the planes are heard. She also cautioned once you lose something like Los Alamos’ quiet atmosphere, you will not get it back.
Councilor Vincent Chiravalle, who attended the meeting by telephone, asked how much noise would be created from the trainings.
Soderquist said the planes would not be flying in populated in areas but if residents did hear the planes “I would say it’s a passing event. I do not think it would be as loud as your neighbor mowing their grass.”
Councilor Michael Wheeler asked if proposed area would not include Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is a restricted airspace.
Soderquist said that was correct.
Being “an old Air Force guy,” Councilor Ralph Phelps said he was familiar with how loud the C-130 plane is, which would be used in the training. If one was flying above you, he said, you wouldn’t be able to talk.
However, if it was flying far away, you would not notice it.
He added, “I think it’s good we support this,” adding that there could be a potential of some inconvenience, “we should just be aware of that.”
Council chairman Mike Wismer wondered what defined a populated area.
Soderquist said that would be a small neighborhood while an unpopulated area would be considered a house located in open space.
For a neighborhood, Sodequist said the plane would be flying at 1,000 feet in the air and 2,000 feet away from the neighborhood.
Several councilors agreed with Phelps to support this proposal.
Chiravalle said, “I feel this type of training is vital.” He added that he much rather see service men and women receive training and experience before going into harm’s way. There might be some inconvenience, but he believed it would be minimal.
Wheeler said, “I agree with Councilor Chiravalle; we do all have to sacrifice during these times.”