Commissioners submit package to Navy on range expansion
Signed, sealed, delivered.
Churchill County Commissioners have submitted their comment letter to the U. S Navy on Draft Environmental Impact Statement the proposed for the Fallon Training Range Complex’s expansion and modernization.
Commissioners reviewed their letter one last time at their first meeting of February and then sent it to meet the Feb. 14 deadline. The county commission also referenced previous scoping comments dated Dec. 1, 2016.
“This is the first time since the scoping period closed the Board of County Commissioners has been able to review and discuss the project in a public forum with input from our constituents and county residents,” stated the submittal letter, which was also sent to Capt. David Halloran, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Fallon.
For the past year, both the Navy and commissioners have conducted numerous meetings to gain additional input into the range modernization, and during December, Navy representatives visited seven cities affected by the expansion and delivered their assessment on which plan would be best for expanding the training range.
The Navy has received thousands of comments regarding the acquisition of more land for the Fallon Range Training Complex since it made its initial announcement in 2016. The proposed expansion covers a five-county area and includes airspace, land ranges and electronic systems used primarily for air and ground training activities. 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 Withdrawn public land for renewal includes 27,359 acres for Bravo-16, 53,547 acres for Bravo-17, 29,012 acres for Bravo-19, 21,576 acres for Bravo-20, 68,804 acres for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.
Jeremy Drew, project manager with Resources Concepts Inc., has been working with the commission and also County Manager Jim Barbee to formulate their letter to address the DEIS concerns. The Navy favors Alternative 3, but other entities such as the Churchill County Commission want the Navy to address their concerns. Drew said one key item the commissioners seek is requesting more information and mapping on the training activities slated in the Dixie Valley Training Area.
During his one-hour presentation at the last commission meeting, Drew focused on 15 sections:
Geological Resources — Drew said the impacts are clearly delineated, but he has concerns with the disturbance of erosive soils (dust and erosion) and invasive species (fire). To minimize impacts, Drew pointed out management and monitoring of the disturbed soils must be done to minimize impacts.
Land Use — Drew said all existing rights-of-way would need to relocated, which, he added, is the Bureau of Land Management’s responsibility. He said the Navy considers the impact “not significant” but he disagrees.
Mining and Mineral Resources — Drew said the DEIS states what commissioners already know. There will be major impacts to known mineral resources, i.e. Walker and Chalk Mountain districts and to geothermal in the DVTA.
Livestock Grazing — The impact is significant, said Drew. The proposal calls for a 7 percent reduction in Animal Unit Month (AUM) or the amount of forage needed by an “animal unit” (AU) grazing for one month. He said very little analysis of range improvements has been done.
“This needs to be further flushed out,” Drew said of the livestock grazing. “It takes some major hits.”
Transportation — This area needs further clarification on Simpson and East County roads.
“Our concern is about Lone Tree Road,” said Commissioner Bus Scharmann.
Residents have brought up concerns about the heavy military vehicles using the country road to Bravo 16.
Air Space — Drew said there will be no impact to the Fallon Municipal Airport and emergencies will continue to supersede training exercises as will wildland fires; however, Drew said two approaches to the Gabbs airport will be affected.
“If there are any (emergency) fights across the airspace, we’ll suspend the air operations,” said Rob Rule, NAS Fallon’s Community Plans and Liaison Officer.
Drew said changes in airspace use could affect the ranges and DTA.
Noise — Drew said a significant amount of aircraft noise will increase east of Fallon, and small arms fire may be noticeable to residents in the northwest quadrant of Bravo 16. He added most munitions impacts are isolated on-range, but small arms weren’t mapped for Bravo 16.
Air Quality — The biggest concerns from dust will be from construction on erodible soils. Drew said construction of new targets wasn’t analyzed, but the impacts will be “not significant.”
Water Resources — Drew said this section does not address flooding of Bravo 16 or 20.
“The Navy does a good job of monitoring,” Drew added.
Scharmann asked if the water right are a state or Navy issue and if the state controls water rights.
“That’s a good question,” Drew replied.
The impact in this area, said Drew, is “not significant.”
Biological — There are three concerns with vegetation analysis, wildlife analysis and increased wildfire risk, management and post-fire rehabilitation.
“It’s unknown to the risk with sage grouse,” Drew aid.
Although the impacts are not significant,” Drew wonders if wildfire can truly be controlled and what are the true potential noise impacts.
Cultural Resources — Drew said the impact assessment is opening consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office and the tribes.
“There are a lot of regulations to deal with, but the Navy is in the same boat,” Drew said.
The concerns are with direct or indirect impacts especially with the target areas and the loss of public access. He said a proposal to provide public torus similar to those tours offered to Hidden Cave.
Recreation — Drew said there are concerns with loss of public access to Dead Camel Mountain, Slate, Bell Flat and Monte Cristo mountains, the West Humboldt Range and adjacent public lands. There are concerns with the loss of local roads.
Scharmann said the commissioners received a letter from a resident, Jim Curran, suggesting the SEALs training be relocate to Bravo 19 from Bravo 16.
“Yes, it was considered,” Rule said.
He explained since the 1940s, B-19 has been used for bombing, and the warning to those traveling in the area is to say on the roads.
“B-16 never had any explosives on it, and that’s why the focus on B-16,” he said.
After further discussion, Chairman Pete Olsen said, “There’s tradeoffs no matter what you do.”
Commissioner Carl Erquiaga said he has concerns about the loss of the recreation area.
“A Big portion of our recreation is used by our local residents who live out there,” he said.
Olsen said the commission has asked the Navy to minimize as much of the area designated for recreation.
Socioeconomics — Drew said the Navy study has not quantified the financial losses from impacts to potential mining and geothermal development and tax revenues from property and sales tax.
Pubic Healthy and Safety of Children — Drew said more information is needed on hazardous material management and transportation on U.S. Highway 50.
Environmental Justice — Drew said the impact is “not significant” and the overall analysis is good.
Prior to the meeting, the Lahontan Valley News bought up a concern to Drew about any impact on Middlegate Station. The owner expressed on Facebook and to the LVN her concerns about the Navy’s expansion. In December when the Navy decided on Alternative 3, however, it shifted the B-17 range off areas for public access and didn’t include a portion of the Fairview Mountain range or earthquake faults. The shift also restored some hunting areas.
The BLM said the land around Bell Mountain west of the State Highway 361 to Gabbs and the Navy’s Bravo 17 range will not be withdrawn by the Navy for its range modernization proposal. This move includes about 76,000 acres. Drew said land east of Middlegate will not be affected.
Drew said based on the analysis on Alternative 3 and the changes, Middlegate should not see any negative impact from the FRTC expansion and modernization.