The first scoping meeting of seven was conducted Monday at the Fallon Convention Center.
The first proposal in several decades plans to withdraw land from Churchill County to the Fallon Range Training Complex. The scoping meetings are for the Navy to accept comments from stakeholders who will be affected.
The scoping period covers 90 days from when the process was first announced in late August.
Zip Upham, public affairs officer for Naval Air Station Fallon, said an Environment Impact Study is for the modernization of the range to include ranges B-16 southwest of Fallon; B-17, the Dixie Valley Training Area, north and south of U.S. Highway 50; and B-20, northeast of Fallon and north of B-17. No plans are proposed for B-19, which is 30 miles south of Fallon and east of U.S. Highway 95.
Capt. David Halloran, commander of NAS Fallon, addressed an audience of more than 100 people to discuss the proposal to renew existing land and expand through additional land withdrawal and land acquisition, airspace modifications and public land withdrawal renewal.
Halloran said the public scoping meetings are showing what the Navy and Department of Defense are proposing. He said the Assistant Secretary of the Navy will make a decision in 2020, and if he approves the plan, then it will go to Congress for their action.
Halloran invited attendees at the Fallon meeting to obtain additional information by going to various information points where presenters who are experts in particular areas would explain information from their posters.
“This is an opportunity to let everybody know what the Navy and DOD are proposing,” he said.
Before taking command of NAS Fallon in late 2015, Halloran said he came here at least 10 times on temporary duty and always looked forward to the training and flying in the Lahontan Valley.
“The training is as good as you can get in the whole world,” he said.
According to Halloran, all carrier air wings train at Fallon, and all carrier tactical training is performed over the desert east of Fallon.
“NAS Fallon hosts training for every carrier-based squadron that goes on deployments,” Halloran pointed out.
He explained the various stages of training that culminates with the entire air wing.
While weapons have improved, Halloran said the ranges have not been modernized in 20-30 years. The proposed expansion combined with the existing training land will cover 670,000 acres.
Alex Stone, EIS program manager for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the proposal is complex. He said the comments collected at Monday’s meeting and online would help the Navy construct a draft impact statement. For example, the EIS will cover air quality and climate, airborne noise, grazing, land use and recreation, minerals and mining, soils and water resources.
“We are going over the basics of proposal and what we are proposing in this early phase,” he said.
Mayor Ken Tedford said the Navy mission is important to the country.
“I am always supportive of NAS Fallon and its mission,” he said. “We know it is a jewel of training for the U.S. Navy. We at the city are still studying their proposal of the Navy because of the immense amount of ground they want to withdraw.”
The three-member Churchill County Commission will receive a report from Halloran at their Thursday meeting.
“We’ll look at the whole thing,” said Commissioner Bus Scharmann. “The Navy is a vital part of this thing, and the DOD is important to the U.S., and the community.”
Scharmann, who attended the scoping meeting with his fellow commissioners, said there is much information to digest.
While the Navy presented information on its expansion, many individuals in attendance expressed reservations about the land withdrawal.
Fernley rancher and Nevada Cattlemen’s Association President Dave Stix Jr. said the NCA opposes the plan because a decrease in cattle grazing arras will occur. Stix said the decrease in cattle could lead to more foreign sales of beef to the U.S.
“Less cattle means more demand from out of country,” Stix said. “If we lose these grazing grounds, they (the land) won’t come back.”
Stix said most of the grazing land in question is located in B-17 south of U.S. Highway 50.
But on Tuesday, the NCA came out with a formal statement: “Each individual rancher must make his or her own decision on their future. In any case, the NCA would ask that the U.S. Navy and our Congressional Delegation please work on a compensation plan that would allow any rancher looking at eviction to be just compensated. So that those ranchers affected by it can look elsewhere for a suitable grazing area as to not cause a net reduction in cattle numbers.
“Furthermore, NCA stands with our sportsman, the hunters and outdoor enthusiasts who will lose access to these areas as well. Certain hunting organizations have worked hard and have invested money towards improving and creating a habitat to help increase wild game numbers. It takes all of us to maintain access to our public lands.”
Commissioner Carl Erquiaga said he was concerned how the withdrawal of land will hurt recreation.
People are concerned about the range areas and potential impact,” he said.
Erquiaga said the B-17 area including the proposed area currently has hunting for Big Horn sheep, antelope and chukar.
Additionally, Erquiaga said he has concerns for B-16, which could affect off-road vehicles and horseback riding.