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Colorado Springs will soon be getting more helicopter traffic, because Hawaii doesn't want it.

It could mean a lot of busy Army Black Hawk helicopters flying around this area from August through October.

In April, the Army released an environmental assessment before the Infantry Division of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade began training on the volcanoes of Hawaii. In that assessment, the Army concluded, "After careful review of the analysis and guidelines (best-management practices, mitigations, conservation measures) set forth in the EA (USAG-HI 2010, Subsection 6.3), it has been determined that no significant environmental impacts are likely to result."

However, after the assessment was released, the newly elected Democratic governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie, balked. He insisted that there be further study of the environmental impact.

As was reported June 27 by the Honolulu Star Advertiser, the governor informed the Army that it would not be allowed to conduct the high-altitude training until it had completed a state environmental analysis along with the federal environmental analysis. This, the paper continued, despite the fact that the Army held similar training there in 2003, 2004 and 2006.

It's an interesting choice, says local activist Bill Sulzman, who has followed the developments online.

"It is a continuation of what they [the Army] already do," he says. "And when they wanted to make a continuation in Hawaii, [the state] said that they didn't want this."

So while the Army started the state process, it also, according to the Star Advertiser, started making plans to bring at least eight UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to Fort Carson. More are possible, because 260 pilots need the training.

There has been no reaction to this news from Colorado's state government, though Gov. John Hickenlooper has expressed support for the Army's operations at Fort Carson. Sulzman notes the difference between how the state of Hawaii and the state of Colorado have handled the planned training's environmental impact, and wonders if more ought to be done here.

He points out that after the Army released an Environmental Impact Statement in February about a new Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Carson, the Forest Service stated that it was inadequate. So did the Colorado office of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Army was given the green light, regardless.

There's an outside chance the Army could do some of the training in Hawaii, according to Cory Harden with the Sierra Club there. But time is short; training has to be completed by October, before the unit deploys to Afghanistan in January.

Randy Tisor, spokesman at Fort Carson, says the Army doesn't know where the helicopters will train here. According to the environmental assessment, the training for pilots would be carried out in unarmed aircraft at high altitudes, landing at designated high-altitude zones, "using varying angles of approach, headings, and air speeds."

The assessment also includes the requirement that fire trucks needed to be standing by, a need for follow-up studies, and public notifications of training. Given the need for fire equipment, landing sites here would have to be in high mountainous areas also accessible for those vehicles.

The Star Advertiser story says the cost of moving personnel and helicopters here for the training would be an estimated $11 million.

chet@csindy.com

  • Colorado to get high-altitude Army helicopter practice that Hawaii officials pushed away.

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