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Concerns rise over proposal to fly fighter jets over Gila National Forest

Kai Porter
November 21, 2017 07:10 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A controversial proposal is taking off in southeastern New Mexico, where the U.S. Air Force is looking at expanding fighter jet training missions over the Gila National Forest.

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The Air Force says it's in the very beginning stages of looking to expand its airspace to fly F-16 training missions over the wilderness near Silver City, but residents there worry about everything from noise pollution to forest fires if that happens.

At a Grant County Commission meeting last week, opponents of the Air Force's proposed flyovers from Holloman Air Force Base rallied outside before giving public comment on the issue inside.

In addition to noise over the Gila National Forest from the jets, Mark Allison, executive director of New Mexico Wild, is concerned about the planes dropping flares during the training missions.

"Dropping 30,000 incendiary magnesium flares over the national forest obviously is a concern,” he said. “It's a very arid environment and there is potential for wildfires."

Alan Schafer, lead airspace analyst for the U.S. Air Force, said the risk of fires is extremely low because the flares burn up before hitting the ground. He also said there will be a noise study conducted as part of the proposal.

"As an individual, you may be underneath an airplane that flies over at 500 feet, which would cause you a peak noise that might interrupt a conversation,” he said. “But it only happens for a second or two. Then it's gone. And it probably won't happen very much. If you sat out there the whole year, you may be interrupted just 3 or 4 or 5 times at most."

The Air Force says the next step is to draft an environmental impact report over the next six months, then to hold public meetings where residents can give their input.

Credits

Kai Porter

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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