Monday, May 7, 2012

More angst over military helicopters

Posted by on Mon, May 7, 2012 at 10:11 AM

Kerry Appel, who lives near the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, says he's had some unwelcome overhead activity of late. He even took a couple of pictures to demonstrate. Here's one of them:

helicopters Pinon Canyon Kerry Appel CAB Fort Carson
  • Courtesy Kerry Appel

He says he complained to Fort Carson, which is preparing to use the PCMS for its soon-to-arrive Combat Aviation Brigade and was told by a Carson spokesperson that the aircraft came from Buckley Air Force Base and Peterson Air Force Base instead.

In an e-mail, Appel writes:

These incidents constitute trespass to my land and my private airspace, a disturbance of my peace, and a threat to my safety. These incidents involved a group of four helicopters flying extremely low over my land and my house and occurred on:

5-2-12
6:30pm
7:09pm
9:18pm – in the dark with no lights
10:19pm – in the dark with no lights
11:06pm – in the dark with no lights

5-3-12
6:26pm
6:50pm
9:11pm – in the dark with no lights
9:23pm – in the dark with no lights
9:30pm – in the dark with no lights

Appel hasn't found out if those flights, in fact, came from other bases. He's working on it.

Meantime, Fort Carson, located immediately south of Colorado Springs, has assured residents the CAB will observe a restriction to keep aircraft 500 feet above private property.

In a related move, southern Colorado resident Doug Holdread tells us via e-mail that Trinidad City Council member Bernadette Baca-Gonzalez has asked that the council consider a resolution asking for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the new Combat Aviation Brigade. The council will discuss the matter at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

He also writes:

The training for this CAB will include120 helicopters and drones flying at extremely low altitudes in our region. This has potentially significant implications for our regional economy. Low-level flights adversely affect ranching operations, as well as the viability of wind energy production in Las Animas County. The Department of Defense is currently in the driver's seat, deciding where wind energy development may, or may not happen. The DoD has recently created a "Wind Energy Clearinghouse" which identifies areas where they will, or will not allow wind farms.

Proposed flights will occur within the Pinon Canyon Military Operations Area and along the Route Hawk Training Routes between Pinon Canyon and Fort Carson. These areas extend far beyond the physical boundaries of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. As more and more military training routes and military operations areas, MOAs are established in SE Colorado, opportunities for wind energy disappear. Already some energy companies have looked at developing wind farms east of Walsenburg, but have decided against it when the've learned of potential conflicts with the military.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the property owner has primary rights within the super-adjacent airspace, up to 500 feet, within which windmills are erected. But the military has been actively testing (violating) these property rights. Our concern is that if the DoD is allowed to lay claim to this low-level airspace, unchallenged, they will in effect have established an easement or right-of-way, negating the property owners rights and depriving our region of a promising area of future economic development.

It's not the first time residents in southeastern Colorado have complained about low flights. In a March 20 letter to Fort Carson Garrison Commander Col. Robert McLaughlin, Las Animas County commissioners expressed concern about low flights, some reportedly as low as 100 feet above ground.

The Army is conducting an Environmental Assessment, which is less vigorous than an Environmental Impact Statement. Those who either oppose or are skeptical of the CAB are seeking an EIS, including the La Junta City Council, and county commissioners in Prowers, Las Animas and Otero counties.

Fort Carson has said McLaughlin's decision is due any day on whether to expand the EA study to an EIS. Regardless, Carson spokeswoman Dee McNutt has vowed the Army will reopen public comment for an additional period, though the dates haven't been announced.

Here's the last word we had from McNutt, on April 24:

We are still on track to provide a 30-day public comment period on the final version of the EA and the draft FONSI [Finding of No Significant Impact] during the May timeframe. The Garrison Commander will consider all comments received from this 30-day comment period before making a decision on whether to sign the FONSI or require an EIS be completed.

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