Help Defeat Cannon AFB’s War on Northern NM

Fifty years after Eisenhower’s famous warning to beware the growing power of the military-industrial complex, speaker after speaker at a public hearing in Santa Fe, NM, suggested that Cannon Air Force Base has committed acts of war against rural tribes and counties in New Mexico and should be shut down.

PhotobucketAt issue was Cannon’s plan to expand its Low Altitude Tactical Navigation (LATN) site to include 21 southern and eastern Colorado counties and 17 eastern and northern New Mexico counties. Affected tribes include the Jicarilla Apache, the Southern Ute and the Navajo. Several Pueblos are near the training zone as well including Ohkay Owinge, Taos, Santa Clara and San Idefonso.

And of course, my own county, Rio Arriba, which is home to several tribes and many Hispanic ranching families that predate the United States of America.

In order to train pilots for low-altitude night flight in Afghanistan, Cannon AFB will begin to conduct three five-hour missions per night (688 a year) in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado.

Planes to be flown include the MC-130J and CV-22 (the infamous Osprey). After receiving a great deal of public criticism, Cannon altered its original plan, excluding populated areas and commercial airspace in this draft. The wealthy and politically connected communities of Los Alamos and Santa Fe were exempted as was the town of Espanola, and the minimum flight requirement was raised from 200 feet above ground level to 300 feet. According to Cannon’s dubious Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI):

Approximately 10 percent of the training missions would be flown between 300 and 500 feet (ft) Above Ground Level (AGL), 40 percent between 500 and 999 ft AGL, and 50 percent between 1,000 and 3,000 ft AGL.

Amazingly, without offering any evidence, the FONSI states that wildlife, the local economy, structures, ranching, hunting/camping and culture will not be effected.

Look for the Draft FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) and alleged Environmental Assessment from which these quotes are taken at this site.

Most of the County of Rio Arriba, home to Hispanic ranching families pre-dating the United States, as well as the Jicarilla Apache reservation and the pueblos of Ohkay Owinge, Santa Clara and San Ildefonso, will be subjected to low level fights.

Many serious flaws have been pointed out in the Environmental Assessment at poorly publicized “community forums” (which should, in fact, be called “public hearings”). For example, the FONSI finds that wildlife will be unaffected by the flyovers even though the EA does not identify which wildlife inhabit the area or where they can be located in the fly-over zone.

The FONSI determines that the requirement to uphold environmental justice has been met:

Scoping comments expressed concerns about disproportionate effects on environmental justice populations. Twenty-one counties in Colorado are entirely or partially under the

proposed training area. Four of those counties have a higher percentage of minorities than the state as a whole and 17 of those counties have a lower percentage of minorities than the state. In New Mexico, 17 counties are entirely or partially under the proposed training area. Five of those counties have a higher percentage of minorities than the state as a whole and 12 counties have a lower percentage of minorities than the state. Similar conditions exist for low-income and youth populations. The Proposed Action would not have disproportionate effects to minorities, low income, or youth populations under the proposed training area.

Since the purpose of the exercises is to train pilots to fly extremely close to the ground over mountainous terrain, it is unlikely that all areas of the proposed training ground will be equally affected by very low flights. More low flights are likely to occur over mountain passes and in rugged terrain than in flat areas. Native American Tribes such as the Ute, the Jicarilla Apache, Navajos and the Pueblos live in these areas as do many indigenous Hispanic ranchers. Rugged remote counties are also poorer and more heavily Hispanic, especially in New Mexico and southern Colorado. Moreover, elk, deer and other wildlife are also concentrated in these areas. It is unlikely that a large airplane flying 300 feet above a herd of any kind will not affect it. And the centuries-old adobe dwellings ubiquitous in northern New Mexico are unlikely to withstand damage from noise and vibrations in the same manner as the modern steel, brick and cement architecture tested for overflight in the “Environmental Assessment.”

I made remarks at the hearing in Santa Fe because the one in Espanola (in Rio Arriba County), which is closest to Hispanic ranchers and Native American tribes, was so poorly advertised that few people knew about it. I heard about it at the last minute thanks to a NAN blogger, Los Anjales. Carol Miller of the Peaceful Skies Coalition had alerted almost all of the people in attendance in Espanola. The only Air Force notification was a teeny advertisement buried deep within the B section of the local paper in four point font.

PhotobucketOne of the changes proposed in this draft as a result of public criticism is that Native American Tribes will now be able to prevent flyovers of important ceremonies by calling up the Air Force to tell them where and when the ceremony will be held. This proposal strikes me as preposterously insulting. Most of the tribes in our area do not tell one another where their ceremonies will be held, and would certainly not have an interest in informing the military that confined them to reservations in the first place.

Ranchers will also be allowed to call the Air Force to report where and when important activities such as branding, calving and shearing will occur. This fanciful suggestion is equally preposterous. It assumes that ranchers can predict without disruption caused by weather and other exigencies, where and when the event will occur. It also assumes they will have phone service and time to place the call.

Two county representatives (a commissioner from Santa Fe County and I) pointed out that Ospreys are prone to crashes, and that remote rural counties do not have HAZMAT capacity to respond to a crash. Moreover, some of you may remember my blog posts this summer about the Las Conchas fire, which spread to over 400,000 acres in a few days. That fire was caused by a downed power line, and required three Type 1 Emergency Response teams to contain its spread.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the process, in my opinion, is that all comments on the sham Environmental Assessment and FONSI are to be sent to Cannon Air Force Base which will make the final decision. Since the Environmental Assessment is a joke, the FONSI is completely unsubstantiated and the public notification process has been non-existent, I don’t see why we should believe administrators at Cannon Air Force Base will listen to comments by politically unconnected minorities.

Unless of course, those minorities dream up a great strategy for making themselves heard. Here is my suggestion for just such a strategy.

How You Can Help

Soon, the twelve members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction will be meeting to identify deep cuts to the military. In May of 2005, Canon AFB was recommended for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The decision was reversed after people in Northern New Mexico circulated petitions on behalf of the base. Many individuals now regret their activism.

I am recommending that NAN members (and their relatives and friends) submit letters to members of the Super Committee requesting the closure of Cannon Air Force Base. Each training flight costs $11,000 which could be used to fund schools, fire departments, police, health care and other services. The letter should be copied and submitted as a comment to Cannon Air Force Base. I will provide you with all the relevant contact info and a letter template below.

Senator Patty Murray D-WA, Committee Co-Chair Phone: (202) 224-2621 Fax: (202) 224-0238

Senator Max Baucus D-MT Phone: (202) 224-2651 Fax: (202) 224-9412  

Senator John Kerry, D-MA Phone: (202) 224-2742 Fax: (202) 224-8525

Senator Jon Kyl, R-AZ Phone: (202) 224-4521 Fax: (202) 224-2207

Senator Rob Portman, R-OH Phone: 202-224-3353 Fax: 202-224-9075

Senator Pat Toomey, R-PA Phone:(202) 224-4254 Fax: (202) 228-0284

Representative Jeb Hensarling R-TX, Committee Co-Chair (You must include a zip code in his district. Here are a few you can use: 75030, 75032, 75041, 75043, 75047, 75049, 75088, 75103, 75114) Phone: Phone: (202) 225-3484 Fax: (202) 226-4888

Representative Xavier Becerra, D-CA Phone: (202) 225-6235 Fax: 202-225-2202

Representative Fred Upton, R-MI Phone: (202) 225-3761 Fax: (202) 225-4986

Representative Dave Camp, R-MI (You will need a zipcode in his district to email him. Try this one: 49654.) Phone: (202) 225-3561 Fax: (202) 225-9679

Representative James Clyburn, D-NC (You will need a zipcode in his district to email him. Try one of these: 29403, 29590, 29052.) Phone: (202)225-3315 Fax: (202)225-2313

Representative Chris Van Hollen, D-MD (You will need a zipcode in his district to email him. Try one of these: 20837, 20841.) Phone: (202) 225-5341 Fax: (202) 225-0375

Here is some sample text you can use:

In 2005, the people of New Mexico including many Native Americans and rural Hispanics petitioned to keep Cannon Air Force Base open. In return, Cannon AFB has singled out poor and minority communities for ongoing night low altitude training flights, threatening homes, wildlife, and the local economy.

The Founding Fathers fought the revolution because they believed Britain’s standing army was a form of tyranny. Requiring Native Americans to report their ceremonies to the USAF to avoid flyovers is an act of war against Native Americans. Low level flyovers of peoples’ communities is also an act of war. Only our Congressional Representatives may declare war.

Many of the people in the flight path have already experienced high intensity wildfires that have rapidly burned hundreds of thousands of acres. County governments in the impacted area do not have HAZMAT capability to respond to a plane crash or in-flight fueling disaster; and the dryness of the forest poses a severe fire hazard. Cannon AFB’s proposed activity presents a serious threat to the lives and livelihood of its neighbors.

Moreover, the alleged environmental assessment conducted by Cannon AFB was incompetent, with huge gaps in data and unscientific “findings;” nor were communities in the flight path adequately informed public hearings.

Each flyover costs the federal government $11,000 per hour, almost the amount of a full-time annual salary in rural Rio Arriba County. This is money that could be used to improve the schools, emergency response, roads and fire fighting capabilities of the threatened communities. I strongly urge you to close Cannon AFB and redirect this funding to basic human services.

Thank you for your attention.

Submit copies of all your letters as public comment before November 5 to the Cannon AFB Public Comment site.

For more information, contact The Peaceful Skies Coalition.