Ground the flight plan

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By Optic Editorial Board

Last week’s Las Vegas community forum sponsored by the U.S. Air Force drove a few points home — and hopefully our nation’s military leaders took notice. More than that, they should realize the consequences to ignoring such an outcry.

Obvious at Tuesday’s forum was that there is strong opposition to the plan to have low-attitude tactical navigation, or LATN, flights over parts of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. And while no polls have been taken to determine how strong the opposition is, it’s a safe bet the anti-LATN crowd is the majority of San Miguel and Mora county residents. In fact, we’d venture to say it’s probably an overwhelming majority.

Why is that? After all, this is an area that has given much to the U.S. Armed Forces. From the Rough Riders all the way to those who are serving in the military at this very moment, Norteños have given much in defense of our nation. And yet, it was quite evident at last week’s forum that many area residents simply don’t trust the military. They don’t believe the Air Force assessment that it won’t have any significant environmental impact, and they don’t want the flights over their homes and land. And, indeed, the evidence does point away from the military’s contentions.

One speaker at the forum said LATN will reduce his property values. It might. Another said it will hurt her breeding operation. It could. Several said it will spook their livestock. It most certainly will. And one young person, Cassandra Miller, nervously stood up for the bears and other wildlife. She pointed out that they are already stressed — drought, wildfires and a lack of food are taking their tolls — and that these low-flying aircraft will surely hurt them even more. Empirical evidence suggests she’s right.

Anyone who’s had one of these aircraft fly over at low altitude knows how loud and intrusive they can be. If this plan goes through, Osprey air crews out of the Clovis airbase will fly as low as 300 feet. This area is already in the Kirkland airbase fly zone, so many local residents have already witnessed the adverse effects of such low-flying aircraft. Add to those occasional flights another 600 to 700 flights a year and you’ve got a lot of disruption coming down on our land.

Then there are the potential fuel dumps and spills. Does anyone really believe that this will be inconsequential to our already delicate environment, even when they take place 2,000 feet up? Keep in mind that this won’t be a little bit of fuel here. Thousands of gallons will be released over our land and water.

The best action here for the Air Force is to take no action — to use its existing military routes. That would be best for all involved. Even for the Air Force, because if the proposed plan is implemented, distrust will only increase, and the schism between the military and the people it serves will only grow greater.