Military airspace concerns added to Keystone pipeline debate . . .

A new twist was added to the congressional dispute over the Keystone XL pipeline when Montana’s senators announced a proposed amendment to the bill to block the Air Force training expansion plans over southeastern Montana.

  B-1 Bomber rumbles down the fightline at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, as part of a training mission.
B-1 Bomber rumbles down the fightline at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, as part of a training mission.

Posted Friday, January 23, 2014

By Lori Kesinger

A new twist was added to the congressional dispute over the Keystone XL pipeline when Montana’s senators announced a proposed amendment to the bill to block the Air Force training expansion plans over southeastern Montana.

The Air Force approved an expansion of the Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) military operating area (MOA) Jan. 16. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must now issue its own record of decision on the plans. The FAA and the Air Force must both approve the project for it to go forward.

“Sen. Steve Daines and Sen. Jon Tester have heard from Montanans who are concerned that the military’s presence in the area will jeopardize general aviation safety, interfere with emergency services, and impede economic activity,” a joint statement made by the Senators stated. “Tester and Daines are introducing an amendment to the Keystone bill to prohibit the Air Force from occupying low-level airspace over a crucial onramp for Bakken oil in Baker.”

The MOA would expand to approximately 28,000 square miles over Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, making it the largest over the continental United States. The airspace would facilitate low-level, high speed combat training for B-1 and B-52 crews operating out of Ellsworth and Minot Air Force Bases, schedul4ed to be active 240 days per year, including ten days of large scale exercises.

The Air Force claims the expanded area would help aircrews train under realistic scenarios for a full spectrum of operations. “Instead of wasting time, as well as wear and tear on the aircraft, flying to other locations, aircrews would gain increased combat readiness valued at approximately $23M/year by flying in the proposed local training areas, which would allow more crews to get more training with the same number of authorized flight hours.” The expansion could also shield Ellsworth from being shut down under Base Realignment and Closure, a federal cost-cutting program.

“This is going to change our way of life in southeastern Montana,” said Roger Meggers, Baker Air Service manager. “I fully support our armed services, but its’ not about national security or training, but about saving Ellsworth.”

Most of Fallon County, including the airport, is in the proposed training area and would be affected by the expansion. Baker Municipal Airport has approximately 7,000 operations every year. The expansion would significantly disrupt commercial and private aviation and emergency medical flights. The expansion would also stifle economic development and threaten safety in the region. In a study released Nov. 28, the Air Force acknowledged the low-altitude flights and loud sonic booms could startle livestock and residents, as flights break the sound barrier and fly as low as 500 feet in the area. The Air Force has no proposed remediation plan for land and livestock owners in the region.

“The Air Force’s decision to move forward with this expansion without adequately addressing Montanans’ concerns is disappointing and discouraging,” Daines stated. “I strongly urge the FAA to examine Montanans’ well-founded concerns about the expansion’s impact on pilot safety, emergency services, and economic activity in southeastern Montana, and ensure Montanans’ voices are heard in the final proposal.”

“I would like to thank our senators for their continued support,” Meggers said. “I also encourage people to stay in touch with our senators and Gov. Steve Bullock. The more people involved, the more we can be heard. In my opinion, the battle is far from over – it’s just beginning.”

      



One thought on “Military airspace concerns added to Keystone pipeline debate . . .

  1. I have 12,000 acres and Rapid City training already flies over low and it is not nice. Scares one out of a deep sleep and the house shakes. the sound and shadows almost make you wreck the tractor. We need NO MORE of this.

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