Navy range expansion delayed
Latest NDAA includes language to keep status quo of training complex
Local lawmakers and other stakeholders involved with the Fallon Range Training Complex’s modernization plans are studying the latest developments involving its expansion.
Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., released a statement Friday referring to the existing lands the U.S. Navy uses in central Nevada. She said the status quo extensions for 25 years at both the Navy and Nevada Test and Training ranges have been included in the final conference version of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
The current FRTC consist of more than 234,124 acres of land within the training areas Bravo-16, southwest of Fallon; Bravo-17 east near Fairview Peak; Bravo-19, 30 miles south off U.S. Highway 95; Bravo-20, northeast of Fallon; and the Dixie Valley and Shoal Site training while allowing more time to discuss the training ranges’ future and the needs of Nevadans affected by the expansion and modernization.
“I’ve always supported the status-quo extension of the U.S. military’s presence at the Nevada Test and Training Range and NAS Fallon, and I’m glad to see this resolution included in the FY2021 NDAA,” she said. “It’s vital that we support our military, as well as our local economies, while also preserving our public lands and sacred tribal sites across Nevada.”
The decision at this time, however, does not include a request from the Navy to expand the range to improve its modern warfare capabilities. The current Navy request includes a withdrawal of an additional 604,789 acres of additional public land and an acquisition of about 65,160 acres of non-federal land for the range modernization and expansion.
NAS Fallon issued a statement Monday on the latest developments.
“Modernizing the Fallon Range Training Complex is needed to safely provide more realistic training using today’s faster, more advanced aircraft and weaponry. We continue to work collaboratively with all stakeholders involved in the process, including tribal leadership, local and state officials, other federal partners, miners, ranchers, conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts and the citizens of Nevada.”
NAS Fallon commanding officer Capt. Evan Morrison said at a January hearing 100 percent of aviation and naval special warfare units train on the Fallon ranges before deployment. With advanced weaponry, Morrison said the Navy requires more air space is to launch missiles toward their targets. Because of the advancement in weapons systems and technology, he said the current size of the Navy ranges curtails training. He added the expansion of Bravo-16 will give the SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land Teams) the ability to conduct more realistic worldwide training.
For more than four years, the Navy and Air Force have both called for a dramatic expansion of both the Nevada Test and Training Range and the Fallon Range Training Complex in addition to the extension.
“My understanding is that the conference report is complete, and the Congressional process essentially wrapped up as well,” said Jeremy Drew, project manager with Resource Concepts, Inc., and a consultant for Churchill County commission. “The final conference resolution provided a 25-year extension and no expansion. However, there was also language directing the Navy to work with state and local stakeholders to find a viable solution to allow expanded training needs.”
Unless there is some unforeseen developments, Drew said it appears the FRTC expansion will occur with a future Congress.
Earlier this year, Churchill County Commissioners sent a letter to Nevada’s congressional delegation and Gov. Steve Sisolak citing concerns with the Navy’s final Environmental Impact Statement, and the commission asked for help in resolving discrepancies. The letter documented Churchill County’s efforts to resolve issues and differences with the Navy’s proposal through the EIS process.
During the past year, commissioners have discussed a land bill that could create two national conservation areas and three wilderness areas, and checkerboard land ownership could result in the consolidation of land, which would lessen difficulties in public access and reduce cumbersome management practices.
At a public hearing in Fallon earlier this year, Amber Torres, chairwoman of the Walker River Paiute Tribe in Schurz, 40 miles south of Fallon, said a number of barriers exist. She said the final EIS didn’t address the impact the training-range expansion will cause to tribal land. Furthermore, she said social and economic impacts will affect residents and place restrictions on people visiting sacred sites.
Masto released alternative legislation in early October to prompt discussions on a compromise and prevent an expansion without protections for tribal resources, conservation, outdoor recreation and public access organizations, farming and ranching and other mitigations for impacted local, county and tribal governments.
The Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe disagreed.
“Our core concern was the Navy expansion, and your bill gives the Navy nearly everything it asked for,” said former Chairman Len George. “Respectfully, that does not feel like prioritizing tribal interests.”