Air Force officials are pleased with the series of public hearings concluded last week on the electronic battlefield proposed for Tule Valley in the West Desert.
"We got a very good reception overall - even in Callao," said Col. Earl Crosby, with the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center at the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.After officials assured ranchers and hunters from West Desert towns that the government would continue to permit grazing and hunting on the land, most of the anxiety died, Crosby said.
The Air Force is looking at three sites for the battlefield: Tule Valley, Snake Valley and Whirlwind Valley (see map, right). Tule Valley is the preferred site because several small towns are located in Snake Valley and a bird refuge is in the middle of Whirlwind Valley, Crosby said. All three sites are between 15 and 20 miles wide and approximately 70 miles long.
The valleys are located in the Utah Test and Training Range. If one of the valleys becomes an electronic battlefield, the military will not withdraw any more land from public use. Planes will fly over the area in much the same pattern as they fly now: flying no lower than 100 feet in the special-use airspace but often dipping all the way to the ground in the restricted land (both are marked on the map.)
The series of hearings was part of the work being done for the environmental impact statement. The draft environmental impact statement should be completed in May. The study will examine the impact of increased flights out of Hill Air Force Base and of increased electromagnetic emissions in the three valleys, possible disturbances of biological and culturally sensitive areas, and neighboring towns' abilities to provide the public services needed for the influx of people.
The last one is tricky. No one is sure how big the influx will be at this point. About 1,000 people currently derive income from the Utah Test and Training Range, said Dick Hector, a civil engineer at Hill Air Force Base who coordinates Hill's involvement in the battlefield.
The creation of a battlefield will employ several hundred more, but no one knows how many hundreds, Crosby said.
"I'd say the bulk of the people will be in the Ogden area, but we can also expect a lot of people in Delta and Wendover," Hector said. "The Tooele and Grantsville area can expect some people."
The battlefield will probably have an economic impact on Delta and Wendover, the men said. Ogden won't notice the population surge and the impact on Tooele and Grantsville will be negligible.
The environmental study will also look at sites for future airfields. Flights over the test range will increase by 30 percent in the next 10 years if the Air Force puts the electronic battlefield there, Hector said. The airfield at Hill can't handle all of that air traffic.
The Air Force is considering building up the Michael Army Airfield by Dugway, building up the field at Wendover or putting in an airport near Delta, Hector said.
The impact of the several airfield sites will also be outlined in the statement, Crosby said.
Copies of the draft statement will be mailed out to affected communities in May. The military will hold a series of hearings on the statement in June. Public comment will be incorporated in a final environmental impact statement to be completed during the summer.
The Air Force plans to file a "record of decision" in September. "We can't turn a shovel of dirt until then," Crosby said.
The Department of Defense has budgeted $76 million for the battlefield over a five-year period, Crosby said. The money will pay for the construction and maintenance of the 100 threat sites (see accompanying story) and maintenance facility.
"That's a DOD financial commitment," Hector stressed. "We still don't have the president's budget through Congress."