Representatives from Naval Air Station Fallon and the U.S. Navy revealed their preferred plan on Wednesday to expand the training ranges to meet the need of modernizing war fighting capabilities.
About 100 residents from Churchill County and neighboring counties attended the three-hour presentation at the Fallon Convention Center.
Since the initial announcement was made in 2016, the Navy has received thousands of comments regarding the acquisition of more land for the Fallon Range Training Complex that covers a five-county area and includes airspace, land ranges and electronic systems used primarily for air and ground training activities.
Since Dec. 10, seven public meetings have informed the public and also received oral and written comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS includes 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 southeast of Fallon.
Capt. David Halloran, commanding officer at NAS Fallon, has been leading the public meetings. Before the presentation session, the Navy set up stations to address specific concerns regarding the EIS, and individuals could also submit written statements on their concerns. Based on previous input, the Navy devised four alternatives and narrowed its selection down to one, referred to as alternative three which scales back some of the proposed expansion land.
The Navy proposes to renew existing public land withdrawal of 202,859 acres expiring in November 2021. Withdrawn public land for renewal includes 27,359 acres for Bravo-16, 53,547 acres for Bravo-17, 29,012 acres for Bravo-19, 21,576 acres for Bravo-20, 68,804 acres for Dixie Valley Training Area and 2,561 acres for Shoal Site, withdraw and reserve for military use approximately 604,789 acres of additional public land, and acquire about 65,160 acres of non-federal land.
The Navy said lands withdrawn in 1953 through Public Land Order 898 are permanently withdrawn and do not expire in November 2021. Churchill County commissioners learned in late November, though, the Navy will not withdraw about 76,000 acres around Bell Mountain west of the State Highway 361 to Gabbs and the Navy’s Bravo 17 range for its range modernization proposal.
Halloran said 100 percent of deploying aviation and naval special warfare units train on Fallon ranges. When Halloran first trained at Fallon 25 years ago as a young pilot, he said the ranges were adequate, but now with advanced weaponry, he said more air space is need to launch missiles toward their targets or for Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land Teams) to conduct more realistic worldwide training. Halloran said pilots need at least 12-14 miles to launch their missiles toward targets, and a larger range will provide 99.9 percent accuracy.
According to Halloran, the SEALs train on B-16, and the primary ranges for aviation are B-17 and B-20. Since the mid-1990s, the score of Fallon’s training has increased with the Navy’s Top Gun and other schools combining their operations to form the current Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center. Halloran said NAWDC now comprises eight schools and provides better training than what pilots receive on deployments.
“The training we get here is top notch,” he said. “The SEALs do the same thing on Bravo 16 with their weapons and training.”
Halloran said the B-16 range is small and allows the SEALs to shoot only to the west. He said the range needs to provide realistic training where the SEALs have the ability to conduct their training in all directions.
Furthermore, Halloran said the worldwide threat has increased over the years, and China has become a competitor on the world stage. In 1999, China spent $6 billion on its military, and since that time, he said that country’s military has increased more than 10-fold.
Alex Stone, the EIS program manager with the U.S. Pacific Fleet, reviewed the criteria for developing the EIS. He said the Navy has conducted public scoring meetings and worked with different levels of government (local, state, and federal) and federally recognized Indian tribes.
We’re kind of at the beginning of the process,” he said. “We’re at a critical stage. We put out the draft EIS and now we want your comments. We have developed an alternative to meet training requirements but minimize impact.”
Based on requirements and previously received comments, Stone said the Navy decided on alternative three, which shifts the B-17 range off areas for public access and doesn’t include a portion of the Fairview mountain range or earthquake faults. The shift also restores hunting areas. He said the Dixie Valley training area south of U.S. 50 is no longer being proposed for withdrawal.
Stone highlighted some of the other impacts affected by alternative three.
He said 12 livestock allotments allowed by the Bureau of Land Management and one from the Bureau of Reclamation will be affected, but he assured the total economic activity within the affected counties will not be harmed. With B-17 shifting more to the southeast, he said the Gabbs highway will be impacted and will be redirected. Furthermore, he said no significant noise impact will occur with the same level of training, and no significant impacts will affect water resources in the region.
According to the EIS, Stone referred to environmental consequences. About 424,466 acres would not be accessible, but certain activities such as the Las Vegas to Reno off-road race will be able to use the ranges when they’re not in use. Other Navy authorized activities to access the ranges when they’re not operational include “ceremonial and cultural site visits, research and academic pursuits or regulatory or management activities.”
Stone said the EIS proposal calls for the removal of a Wilderness Study Areas in the Clan Alpine Mountains, Job Peak and Stillwater Range. The third alternative, however, would close public access to almost 5,200 acres of the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and adjoining Churchill County conservation easements.
“B-17 shifts off popular hunting areas, and Dixie Valley would remain open to all recreation with no restrictions,” Stone said.
Hunting enthusiast attending the meeting said afterward the Navy took into consideration their concerns about limiting both hunting and recreation areas through the scoring process.
Stone said additional feedback will help the Navy to look at other ways to mitigate impacts on its proposal.
A handful of people attending the EIS meeting spoke. Even though the current comment period opened in mid-November, rancher Kurt Kuznicki said he would like to see both the Departments of Navy and Defense expand the comment period since many people are busy in December. He said the 1,500-page EIS contains a lot of technical information that many people don’t have the time to read all of it.
Reno resident Tom Myers said he has concerns about the proposed elimination of the WSAs, and the government is removing some of the most pristine land in east-central Nevada.
“Some of the most pristine land in the Great Basin should be protected,” he said, adding he would like to see the Navy reconsider.
Myers also questioned the Navy’s need to acquire 99.9 percent attainment in its training.
Reese River area rancher Johnny Bobb said his concern centers on Navy aircraft flying low over his land, and the activity scares both his children and horses.
“I listen to the sounds of the wind coming and (it) tells me our spiritual people are worried about the aircraft,” he said.
Jami Bullock, a Navy veteran who live in Fallon, said she appreciates the work done by the various agencies. She added the community is invested in the Navy.
“We need to support them,” she said.
Laura Berry lives near the entrance to the B-16 range and said she has concerns about the heavily armored MRAPS (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles that travel about 35 mph near her home.
“I would like you to consider not using the Lone Tree and Solias routes for your current and future training out there,” she said.
Both Beverly Harry, a resident at Pyramid Lake, and Hannah Arthur expressed concerns about the impact to indigenous communities. Harry said the amount of money spent on the EIS should be used, instead, on developing peace strategies.
“We need to work together and respect the land,” she said.
Arthur gave an example of how military expansion in Arizona has damage the land and doesn’t want the same thing to happen in Northern Nevada.
“How are we going to keep them accountable for protecting the environment,” she said.
Arthur said she hadn’t heard about Wednesday’s meeting until a few days ago although Northern Nevada media has extensively announced the EIS meetings since early November on various platforms.
Another man said the training area is on public land, which is being taken away.
After the meeting, Halloran said the proposed Interstate 11 corridor that would divide Bravo 16 would need more study.
“I don’t know all the details,” Halloran said.
Comments may also be provided by mail or through the project website at http://www.FRTCModernization.com. Comments must be postmarked or received online by Jan. 15, 2019. Background information on the range modernization may also be found at this website.