Air National Guard responds to governor on low-flight proposal
AUGUSTA - The Air National Guard has responded to a letter written by Gov. John Baldacci regarding a study prepared by the ANG on a proposal to lower the minimum altitude for military training flights over much of western Maine.
The ANG is asking the Federal Aviation Administration to modify Condor 1 and Condor 2, military operation areas that have encompassed most of Franklin County for 30 years. Currently, ANG pilots must stay above 7,000 feet throughout the MOA, unless they're training in military training routes, or MTRs, where pilots can fly as low as 500 feet off the ground.
Gov. Baldacci wrote letters to the ANG on Aug. 28 and Nov. 13, regarding the draft version of the Environmental Impact Statement released in July 2009. The first letter asked a series of questions about the modification, which had been raised by state agencies and residents of Franklin County, also asked for a postponement of six to nine months.
“…These assessments strongly suggest that more work needs to be done to assure me and the people of the Western Maine that no significant impacts will result from the proposed changes to the Condor MOA,”
Baldacci concluded in the Aug. 28 letter addressed to ANG Col. William Albro at the Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
The ANG agreed to delay the hearing by two and a half months, saying that the governor's concerns have been addressed in the draft EIS. This was stated in a letter addressed to Baldacci on Sept. 10.
"The National Guard Bureau," ANG Director Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt wrote, "in conjunction with Major General Libby's office, has ensured all of your summary points are addressed in the current draft EIS for the modification of the Condor MOA...."
The governor's second letter, sent in November, stated that he was "deeply disappointed that no further consideration was given to the questions outlined in [his] letter." It went on to say that the governor believed that inadequate effort had been expended on the draft EIS.
“As such, I wish to register my opposition to this proposal," Baldacci wrote. "I do not believe that serious consideration has been given to the impacts on the people of Maine nor has the appropriate level of due diligence been conducted in this process and in the Draft EIS.”
The ANG has since responded, thanking Baldacci for his letter and issuing a series of replies to the concerns listed in the Aug. 28 letter.
"The Air National Guard considers community support as central to our ability to meet the demands of securing the homeland and defending our nation," Wyatt wrote, in a letter dated Dec. 1. "Alleviating any and all concerns regarding the affect of our operations on the quality of life in western Maine is fundamental to this effort."
The ANG began by stating that further postponements in the process were unlikely.
"We have exceeded federal laws and guidelines," the letter reads, going on to state that "after we received Gov. Baldacci's August 28, 2009 letter, requesting the public hearing be postponed six to nine months, we postponed the public hearing for two months. We also extended the comment review period for another four months totaling 147 days."
The ANG also attempted to address concerns raised by state Rep. Thomas Saviello (R - Wilton) and others about the completeness of the draft EIS. On the Maine Department of Transportation Web site, the draft EIS is now accompanied by a list of preparers. The ANG says in the letter that the EIS will meet all of the requirements set by the Council of Environmental Quality.
The letter also addresses a recommendation made by both the MDOT and some residents at the recent public hearing, which was for the EIS to include a review by a third-party noise engineer.
"All contractor noise work is reviewed by USAF specialists," the letter reads.
The ANG's response goes on to refute claims that the public hearing, held at the University of Maine at Farmington on Nov. 14, was improperly advertised, citing posts in several local newspapers.