Representatives from the U.S. Navy made their final pitch to the public Jan. 28 to explain their stance on expanding the Fallon Range Training Complex by more than 600,000 acres.
The Navy proposes to renew existing public land withdrawal of 202,859 acres which expires in November 2021. The 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. The Navy is also proposing to withdraw and reserve for military use about 604,789 acres of additional public land, and acquire about 65,160 acres of non-federal land for its range modernization and expansion.
The Navy compared the changes made from the draft to final EIS during the lengthy meeting at the Fallon Convention Center, but that didn’t sway many in attendance.
“It is true that the majority of the comments submitted throughout the project have been concerns,” said Alex Stone, EIS program manager with the Navy’s U.S. Pacific Fleet. “Many concerns, though, have been resolved through providing additional information.”
Stone and Rob Rule, Naval Air Station Fallon’s community plans and liaison officer, have been working on the proposal for a number of years, beginning during the Obama Administration. Stone, though, was the face of the Navy as he explained how the Navy altered some of its recommendations from the draft EIS to the final. Stone said the Navy began taking comments after it rolled out its initial proposal in late 2016. Once the Navy released the draft EIS in December 2018, Stone said seven public meetings gave people an opportunity to offer input.
“Many comments led to changes in the EIS,” Stone said.
During the process, he said the Navy worked with all affected counties, state agencies, federal government offices and the various tribes.
“All were involved with the development of the EIS,” Stone stressed.
Stone also said the Navy will continue to work with its stakeholders and tribes.
The final EIS goes to the Secretary of the Navy this month with the additional comments provided by people who either spoke or filled out cards at the recent public hearing. In addition to affecting a chunk of Churchill County, the Navy’s plan includes portions of Lyon, Mineral, Nye and Pershing counties. Stone said the implementation of the range expansion will move from the Secretary of Navy’s office to Congress, and if passed, implementation will span many years.
NAS Fallon commanding officer Capt. Evan Morrison said 100 percent of aviation and naval special warfare units train on Fallon ranges before deployment. Morrison, who first trained on the Fallon ranges in the late 1990s, said with advanced weaponry, more air space is need to launch missiles toward their targets. The expansion of Bravo-16 will give the SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land Teams) the ability to conduct more realistic worldwide training.
By using a visual illustration, Morrison said pilots need at least 12 to 14 miles to launch their missiles toward targets, and a larger range will provide 99.9 percent accuracy.
Morrison referred to another slide entitled “Ninety Days to Combat” and said because of the advancement in weapons systems and technology, the current size of the Navy ranges curtails training.
“The current size of the bombing ranges and the Dixie Valley Training Area severely restricts the extent to which the Navy can use its weapon systems to train,” Morrison said, adding the ranges will be reconfigured to ensure success.
Morrison, who became commander of the air station in March 2019, added the training will meet future needs.
As undertaken during prior presentations, the Navy and subject-matter experts established stations in the back of the main meeting room, most displaying maps to address specific concerns regarding the final EIS. Based on input submitted during 2017 and 2018, the Navy developed four alternatives and narrowed its selection to one, referred to as alternative three which scales back some of the proposed expansion land.
Stone said the DVTA will expand but remains open for most land uses. He said controls will be in place for development, improvement of infrastructure, power lines and mining. The DVTA south of U.S. Highway 50 includes a land management overlay with the Bureau of Land Management. A section of the Gabbs Highway will be moved because of the shifting of Bravo-17’s expansion to avoid the Rawhide Mine.
“There is significant concern for recreation and access to the Rawhide mine,” Stone added.
Later in the public meeting, though, a resident of Gabbs said the acquisition of land comes within three miles of the small community.
“I can’t imagine what it will be like,” said Paula Houston.
She also expressed concern about pilots who fly low over the area.
“I could’ve handed him a cup of coffee,” Houston said of one incident.
Stone discussed other changes to the final EIS to include mining and mineral rights, livestock grazing, transportation, noise, air and water quality, biological and cultural resources, recreation, socioeconomics and public health.