25 people attended the public scoping meeting in the multipurpose room at Pahranagat Valley High last week.
The meeting was put on by the public affairs department of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base. It was the fourth in a series of five to explain and take public comment, written or oral, plus a legislative environmental impact statement, regarding the Air Force?s pitch for more military readiness in its plan to expand the Nevada Test and Training Range northwest of Las Vegas.
From all five meetings, held in Beatty Tonopah, Caliente, Alamo and Las Vegas, about 250 people, including conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, government land managers and tribal leaders, expressed concerns over wildlife, cultural heritage and public access.
The Air Force is seeking to add 301,507 acres to its restricted proving ground near Indian Springs that already covers more than 2.9 million acres in Clark, Lincoln and Nye counties. Roughly 278,000 acres of the range expansion would be carved from Desert National Wildlife Refuge, about half of which is already under military control.
In Alamo, Col. David Aliva, commander of the range, said the additional land is needed to increase overall training capacity and support more realistic combat exercises for the next generation of military aircraft and equipment. As it is now, Avila said, the range is ?a 10-pound sack of flour, and we?re squeezing 15 pounds into it.?
A prepared 30-minute video presentation explained the Air Force is not seeking any additional land to use as bomb impact areas, but officials want primary jurisdiction over the 846,000-acre southern portion of the range they share with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The video explained the change would allow the military ?ready access? to conduct exercises on the land, which is already off limits to the public but of limited use to the Air Force because of regulations governing refuge property and proposed wilderness.
As reported a few weeks ago in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Desert National Wildlife officials have expressed concern about the possible impacts on desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife. ?They also worry the expansion will cut off access to two of the refuge?s most popular attractions: the rough, unpaved Alamo Road and the Hidden Forest Cabin hiking trail. Christy Smith, project leader for the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex, said she has yet to see a map that reflects that.?
Some citizens have complained that more land is never enough for the government.
Vern Holaday of Alamo, said, however, he was somewhat encouraged by what the Air Force presented because they did offer several alternative proposals that did not seem to have not as many site restrictions.
County Commissioner Varlin Higbee said he also felt encouraged because of the three alternatives given, including allowing certain activities to continue to occur, that could also be used in the final decision. ?It sounds like they are really sincere about working with the counties, and that?s promising.?
Higbee said this process of part of the 20-year renewal of the NTTR with Congress. ?I don?t agree with them wanting to take more land, but I can deal with them.? He said it is officials with the Department of the Interior where he has problems. ?They are having to answer to too many special interest groups.?
Additional opportunities for public input are expected in early 2018, after the Air Force releases a draft version of the legislative environmental impact statement on the range renewal and expansion.
Congress will have the final say over what happens to the range in a vote expected sometime before November 2021.
The Air Force is accepting formal public input through Dec. 10 on what to include in its impact statement.
Comments can be submitted via a website, by email at 99ABW.PAOutreach@us.af.mil, or by mail: Nellis Air Force Base, 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs, 4430 Grissom Ave., Ste. 107, Nellis AFB, NV 89191.