Environmental Impact Of Increasing F-16 Flights In Southern New Mexico

Dec 3, 2019


Commentary: The US Air Force released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) evaluating alternatives to expand airspace across southern New Mexico for Holloman Air Force Base F-16 pilot training. The Air Force acknowledges that current airspace is adequate for F-16 combat training, but wants a large increase for an additional 10,000 annual sorties and annual discharge of 15,000 flares and 15,000 bundles of chaff. 

The Air Force is holding public hearings to accept public comment on the DEIS during public hearings this week:

December 2 - Socorro - Macey Center, 801 Leroy Place

December 3 - Truth or Consequences - Commission Chambers, 405 W. Third Street

December 4 - Silver City - Grant County Convention Center, 3031 Highway 180 East

December 5 - Las Cruces - Ramada Hotel and Conference Center, 201 East University Avenue

Alternative 1 would expand the existing Talon Military Operations Area (MOA) over southeastern New Mexico that Holloman AFB currently uses. Military aircraft have trained there intensively for a long time and have benefited the economies of Alamogordo and Otero County.  The Air Force acknowledges that Alternative 1 meets its training needs with the fewest risks and impacts.

“We recognize the role of Holloman’s F-16 pilot training mission to national defense. Alternative 1 best meets those needs,” said Allyson Siwik, executive director of Gila Resources Information Project.

Alternatives 2 and 3 would add 4.5 million acres of Special Use Airspace, including the new Lobos Military Operations Area (MOA), for a total of 7 million acres of training area over the Gila Region, largely in places the Air Force has not used before. Areas affected include: Silver City, Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences and Socorro; the Gila and Cibola National Forests; wilderness areas such as the Gila, Aldo Leopold, Robledo Mountains and Sierra de las Uvas; and local economic engines such as the Gila Cliff Dwellings and Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge.

“These are places that are quiet and distinguished by a wealth of unique natural assets. People living in these areas will not receive economic benefits from intense training by F-16s coming from Holloman AFB but will experience extreme noise, pollution, the threat of catastrophic wildfire and severe impacts to outdoor-based economies,” said Todd Schulke, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Major Conclusions

·      The Air Force states that its current airspace is adequate for its F-16 pilot training mission.·      Alternative 1 meets the needs of Holloman’s F-16 pilot training mission without the severe economic and environmental impacts to southwest New Mexico and its unique natural and cultural resources.

·      Alternatives 2 and 3 will cause significant negative impacts to southwest NM, putting the region at increased risk of wildfire from flares, increased noise, environmental effects from chaff, and negative impacts to local tourism, retiree, and outdoor-based economies.

·      Alternatives 2 and 3 create an unnecessary, massive military training airspace from Phoenix to eastern NM, setting up an “If you build it, they will come” situation, bringing more training to the area in the future, potentially including F-35’s that are multiple times louder than F-16s.

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