The watchdog group Downwinders has obtained an Air Force document that suggests the military may not have been totally open with the state and media about its plans for an "electronic combat range" in Utah's West Desert.
The document suggests that a larger area than previously discussed may be affected by tests; many supersonic missions may occur at night near populated areas; major increases in air traffic at all hours are expected at Hill Air Force Base, including flights carrying live munitions; and effects on surrounding communities may not have been given high priority in selection for a range site.Downwinders spokesman Steve Erickson said those implications indicate the Air Force is "trying to railroad its plans through without consideration of what the public wants, and its studies are designed only to justify decisions it has already made."
Bud Scruggs, chief of staff for Gov. Norm Bangerter, said the state has not yet seen the report and is concerned about the Air Force's commitment to involve the state and citizens in every step of deciding whether to build the project. "We expect the Air Force to be a good citizen and to comply with our commitments. If not, we want to know why," he said.
Erickson said the 84-page, unclassified document detailing plans for the range - which is designed to simulate the heavy concentration of electromagnetic signals likely to be found during battle - should have been released to his group through a recent Freedom of Information Act request it made, but was not.
"It was slipped to us by a man who didn't say how he got it, and I didn't ask," Erickson said.
The Deseret News made a Freedom of Information Act request last November for similar documents. The Air Force said in January it complied fully by releasing some cursory information - but did not supply the detailed document obtained by Down-winders, which is dated April 1988.
When asked why, the officer in charge of complying with FOI requests, Lt. Col. Thomas J. Bartol, director of the programs and environmental division at Norton Air Force Base, Calif., said, "That document is still in draft form. We normally don't release them until they are in final form. Many changes occur during the draft process."
Still, Erickson said - as does the document - that even though it is in draft form, it is "an accurate reflection of current planning" and "justifies the proposed action at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) as the best alternative."
Erickson said, "How can the public be involved in the process if it doesn't know what criteria has been used to select Utah as the site, and exactly what is planned and where?"
Bartol said the Air Force would supply within days a response to Downwinders' claim that the Air Force is not being as open with its plans as it should.
Among some of the interesting and new or more detailed information in the report includes:
-Airspace needed would be 130 miles long and 40 miles wide - which would stretch from I-80 on the north to south of U.S. 6/50, which runs between Delta and Great Basin National Park, Nev. Additional approach routes would be needed outside that area - possibly affecting more area with noise than previously mentioned, although such areas are sparsely populated.
-Airspace is needed from 100 feet above the ground to an altitude of 58,000 feet. Supersonic runs by aircraft could be made as low as 100 feet above ground. About 20 percent of the missions on the range will involve supersonic flight - and apparently could be near small, but populated towns such as Callao, Juab County.
-Land needed to set up targets and transmitters would be 70 miles long and 15 miles wide. Airspace above that area would be restricted.
-The document says "the extent of public domain land around the (electronic battlefield) may determine future decisions to expand into unrestricted areas." Erickson said he worries that may mean "the Air Force is out for a wild land grab, especially when you hear recent comments from (the commission on base closures) that the military needs to buy more land throughout the West for things such as electronic battlefields."
-"Significant" numbers of nighttime flights are expected because of a projected heavy demand for time on the range.
-Some live ordnance testing will be done.
-The total number of people expected to be employed by the electronic battlefield by the year 2000 is 1,421 - one reason the state has been interested in it. It may also attract more defense contractors to the state.
-The document says 23 sites nationally were considered, but only the eight finalists were specifically named. Besides the Utah site, three were in Nevada, two in California and each in New Mexico and Florida.
-Of the eight finalists, only the Utah site was deemed adequate in all criteria. Still, the document noted, "Supersonic airspace and related low-level routes are not presently available, although the remoteness, low population and sparsity of commercial airways in the region make creation of these airspaces relatively less difficult at UTTR than in other options."
It also notes a "favorable political climate for military requirements in Utah" to make such changes.
The document notes some problems with staging missions from Hill Air Force Base.
It says Hill's presence in a heavily populated area imposes limitations on live ordnance operations, which would present problems for electronic battlefield operations. The document suggests eventually staging missions from airstrips at Wen-dover or Dugway.
Erickson said the document said other sites nationally were rejected for problems that were not any more serious than Utah's, and for political reasons.
Erickson said he is also unhappy the Air Force apparently has not yet taken into consideration some environmental concerns.
The Air Force plans to release a draft environmental impact statement about the effects of the battlefield later this year.