Despite the concerns of a watchdog environmental group, Gov. Norm Bangerter and military officials have moved swiftly to quell fears the Air Force is being less than open and fair about its plans for an "electronic battlefield" in Utah's West Desert.
In a joint statement Thursday, Bangerter and Maj. Gen. James W. Hopp said they are working together to ensure Utahns are protected."They've been totally cooperative on this project from its earliest days," Bangerter said about the Air Force.
Leaders of the Downwinders said earlier this week they had obtained an Air Force document of April 1988 that suggests the project will cover a larger area than previously believed, will include many supersonic night missions near populated areas, will increase air travel at all hours at Hill Air Force Base and that the project's effects on communities were not deemed important.
Officials in Bangerter's office said the document Downwinders obtained was only a draft. Air Force officials said the final version of the environmental impact study will be released in May or June and will be followed by public hearings.
"Why get all upset when there's going to be a full public hearing process?" said Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff. However, Scruggs said, the state is concerned about the questions raised by the draft document.
"We want this project, but we're not willing to sacrifice our lifestyle to get it," he said.
In the statement, Bangerter said his enthusiasm for the project does not outweigh his concerns for the health and safety of Utahns.
Scruggs said state science adviser Randy Moon had received all draft copies of the report. Moon was driving his family home from a vacation in California Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
Hopp said the Air Force would gain little by trying to avoid public concerns. "Of course we're working closely with the governor and his staff on this important proj-ect," he said. "It is far too important to the Air Force and the state of Utah to do it any other way."
Bangerter said he is satisfied with the Air Force's conduct, and he noted the battlefield will provide jobs and valuable military contracts for the state.
"The Air Force is working very hard to ensure our environmental concerns are properly addressed now, in the planning stages of this program," he said.
Steve Erickson, spokesman for Downwinders, said the draft should have been released to his group through a recent Freedom of Information Act request it made. Instead, he received it quietly from a man who didn't say where he had obtained it.
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 the detailed document obtained by Downwiders was not supplied.
The purpose of the electronic battlefield will be to simulate the heavy concentration of electromagnetic signals likely to be found during battle and to test how well Air Force equipment interprets and interacts with the signals.
The tests will be "infinitely more valuable to our flight crews than what we're now able to do," Hopp said.
Maj. George Ledbetter, a judge advocate at Norton Air Force Base, Calif., in response to Deseret News inquiries said Thursday that the document obtained by Downwinders is no longer current and has been revised extensively.
"It is a year out of date. A lot of things have been changed, and it is undergoing more revision. That's one reason the FOIA doesn't require us to release predecisional working documents," he said, adding that the final draft of the document is expected to be released in June.