In late January, the U.S. Air Force held two public hearings in Lincoln County, in Caliente and Alamo, to talk about their interests in expanding the Nevada Test and Training Range.
As explained at the meetings, the NTTR currently covers about 3 million acres of land in Lincoln, Nye and Clark County.
At this week’s County Commission meeting, the board approved a motion to send a letter regarding the comments on a Draft Legislative Environmental Impact Statement dealing with the proposed land expansion. The new land removal from public access would withdraw up to 301,507 additional acres.
Several alternatives were included in the proposal to be submitted to Congress.
Air Force officials have said the additional land is necessary to increase the range’s overall training capacity and support more realistic combat exercises for the next generation of military aircraft and enemy countermeasures.
Opponents from various sides have pointed out, the Air Force is always going to want more. “More is never enough” is the thought.
As reported earlier in the Record, Alternative 1 would be in the North Range, where most of the activity takes place now. The number of sonic booms in the area would be allowed to increase by one. Nothing would be done in the South Range with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continuing to hold the primary jurisdiction there.
Alternative 2 would allow the Air Force to take complete control of the entire South Range. Any non-military usage of the range would need to be approved by the Air Force.
Military operations in the South Range would increase by 30 percent and allow for just one more sonic boom.
Alternative 3 had three sub alternatives attached, including 3C, the one most observers feel most likely to be adopted by Congress. 3C would involve 227,000 acres from south of the Lower Pahranagat Lake down through Clark County. This would then close off public access to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Pine Creek Road, Saddle Mountain, Cabin Springs, White Rock, Sheep Pass, the sand dunes at Dry Lake Springs, Rug Mountain, Alamo Road and Corn Creek.
In the Commission meeting, the letter being sent, while not in total support, leans more in favor of Alternative 2.
Commissioner Varlin Higbee suggested the Board seek now to draft a resolution out of Lincoln County to be submitted to Congress, “that would include the specifics we want. Rather than take the options they have thrown at us, we could build our own options in the resolution.”
Board chair Paul Donohue stated discussion on such resolution could be held at the March 5 board meeting.
Both Higbee and county planning department directory Cory Lytle commented on the reason the Air Force wants to control the 846,000 acre south portion.
Lytle told Commissioners, since 1971 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has held jurisdiction and whenever the Air Force wants to do something on the ground there, they have to get permission from Fish and Wildlife and other agencies. As reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the change putting under total Air Force control would allow the military “ready access” to conducting exercises on the land, which is already off-limits to the public, but of limited use to the military because of regulations governing refuge property and proposed wilderness.
As Higbee summarized, “In effect then, it would be to eliminate the middle man.”
Numerous sportsmans groups, hunters and tribal groups have expressed protest against the proposed expansion saying it would endanger wildlife, cut off public access to public land and hurt rural recreation economies.
Comments are being accepted through March 8 on the draft environmental statement. To make comment, you may do so online at www.nttrleis.com.
The final statement is slated for release in September.
Higbee said he would volunteer to be part of a delegation from Lincoln County to go back to Washington with the intent of speaking to committee members, “and present our resolution in person.”
Congress could take up the matter as early as 2019, following a review by the Interior Department.
The military needs to have action taken before 2021, when the current land withdrawal for the NTTR is set to expire.