Low-altitude flights may be grounded

Lawmakers want to stop Air Force plan

Two state legislators from southeast Colorado have introduced legislation to prevent the Air Force from flying low-altitude training missions over a large part of the state.

The bill of Wes McKinley and Edward Vigil, who represent districts 64 and 62, respectively, aims to prevent government taking of certain property without due process.

In this case, the property is air space that C-22 Osprey and C-130 Hercules would use to simulate terrain typical of Afghanistan. The aircraft are stationed at Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, N.M.

The Low-Altitude Tactical Navigation area, known as LATN, the Air Force is proposing, would extend from Grand Junction and Aspen to Albuquerque and from the Arizona and Utah state lines to La Junta.

McKinley and Vigil say their HB 1066, now in the judiciary committee, reinforces the rights of property owners against undue taking. The legislation specifically prohibits owners of livestock, air space or seepage-water rights to be stripped of their property without due process.

The legislation would prohibit a government from taking property, including air space between the surface of real property and a height of 500 feet above the surface, without notifying property owners and allowing them to be heard.

McKinley said Wednesday that the public information sessions the Air Force has held in several communities satisfy the requirement of notification and an opportunity to be heard.

But, McKinley said, the Air Force will have to prove in district court why it should have the right to take private property. The requirements of the law also would apply in certain cases to the taking of livestock and seepage-water rights.

Among elements of the proposed Low-Altitude Tactical Navigation area is a stipulation that planes would fly from 200 to 3,000 feet above ground. Also, there would be no more than three flights a day and no more than one flight over a given area. There would be no landings or airdrops.

At a public hearing in Durango, opponents of the flyovers said tactical maneuvering would disrupt the peace and quiet, bring noise, air and water pollution, scare livestock, trigger avalanches and conflict with civil aviation.

The Air Force turned over public comments to a consultant doing an environment assessment of the proposed Low-Altitude Tactical Navigation area. Capt. Larry van der Oord, an Air Force public information officer at Cannon Air Force Base, said last week that the environmental study is expected this spring. Another round of public hearings is scheduled then.

Environmentalists say an environmental assessment isnít a sufficiently thorough study. They say a comprehensive environmental impact statement is required.

dale@durangoherald.com

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