Franklin Countys First News

Hearing rescheduled for low-flight training proposal

The Condor 1 and Condor 2 Military Operations Area. The lines in grey represent the centers of flight corridors, where aircraft can currently fly as low as 500 feet off the earth. These corridors cover roughly 53 percent of the MOA, but are separate from the Condor MOA, in which the minimum altitude is 7,000 feet above sea level. The Air National Guard wants to lower the minimum altitude to 500 feet throughout most of the MOA.

FARMINGTON - The Air National Guard has announced that it will hold a public hearing to review its draft version of the Environmental Impact Study on Nov. 14, 2009. The hearing will give people a chance to weigh in on the study, which was released in late August after a request by the governor's office.

The ANG also announced that the public comment period will be extended until the end of the year, with written comments about the proposal and draft EIS being accepted until Jan. 1, 2010. 

Currently, ANG pilots must stay 7,000 feet above sea level throughout much of Condor 1 and Condor 2, military operation areas that encompass most of Franklin County. The exception to this rule are military training routes, or "MTRs" which make up roughly 53 percent of the area. In the MTRs, F-15 and F-16 jets are allowed to fly as low as 500 feet off the ground. These MTRs are not directly connected with the Condor MOAs; a pilot cannot move freely from low-altitude flight in a MTR to the high-altitude Condor MOA without receiving clearance from Boston Central International Airport.

This system has been in place for roughly 30 years.

The ANG has consistently argued that the MTRs do not allow for the maneuvering necessary for some training, namely Low Altitude Awareness Training, Low Slow/Visual Identification training and Slow Shadow intercept training. The modification, the EIS says, would allow the ANG to meet its training requirements as well as spread training activity over a wider area.

Some residents, however, have expressed concerns about the effects of the jets' sudden, loud sound bursts on the health of people and animals; the potential for mid-air collisions with recreational light aircraft; and potential economic impacts on western Maine businesses that depend on quiet, peaceful settings to function.

Governor John Baldacci prompted the ANG to conduct the EIS after the Maine Department of Transportation and other agencies expressed concerns with the less-intensive Environmental Assessment, back in 2008. Then, in late August of this year, he asked the ANG to delay a public hearing on the draft EIS, scheduled for early September, after MDOT, the Attorney General's Office and residents came forward with concerns about the EIS.

“…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 a letter addressed to ANG Col. William Albro at the Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

Although agreeing to delay the hearing by two and a half months, the ANG has said that the governor's concerns have been addressed in the EIS, 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, according to the guidance and laws of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970."

The letter went on to stress that the modification would reduce the time pilots spend below 1,000 feet, as they would not be required to stay in the low-altitude MTRs for their entire training operation.

"Instead of flying for 30 minutes continuously below 1,000 feet on low level routes under the Condor MOAs," the letter reads, "fighter aircraft would only have to fly below 1000 feet for about 10 minutes on a high-low-high intercept."

Less time at a low altitude would reduce the chance of potential conflicts with civilian aircraft, Wyatt went on to say, as well as allowing pilots to better their use radar at high altitudes prior to dropping to a lower one.

"Bottom line: Condor Airspace Modification means better training, greater safety and less impact to the environment," the letter concluded, adding that the hearing had been postponed to "provide interested parties the opportunity to more carefully examine the draft EIS."

The hearing would be at University of Maine at Farmington's Lincoln Auditorium on Nov. 14, a Saturday, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The draft EIS can be viewed here.

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15 Responses »

  1. As a disabled airforce veteran, it is very important that the low fly zone be allowed to properly train in areas such as ours. The impact of the area will be less of a problem than people are aware, furthermore, these small intrusions will not be forever. So, with allowing the low fly zones will be a large form of supporting our troops and bringing them home safely.
    Michael Hill

  2. Have you actually read the EIS? It is utter nonsense and the proposal will have a much greater impact than people are led to believe. The science and the analysis are junk and never should have seen the light of day. The findings in the EIS were bought and paid for with our tax dollars and fabricated by a corporation in Maryland. There would be not be any local control when the noise complaints start.

    What about the 3 star general's letter to the Governor? The general says it will be "quieter and safer" to fly the intercept manuvers at low level. Really? You can't make this stuff up. I think he pulled a few too many g"s.

    I too am an Air Force veteran. If you want to help the troops see they get better care at Togus.

  3. I think that if the military needs our western Maine airspace to train our pilots, we should give it to them. I remember when I was a youngster in Stratton, they would break the sound barrier and rattle all the windows in the old elementary school. We loved it. It wasn't a problem then and shouldn't be one now. If a little noise is all we have to put up with to help our pilots come home from war in one piece, it is a very small price to pay compared with what they are willing to sacrifice. I think the military should post a schedule so we could watch them from the ground. Maybe it would draw more tourists to the area.

  4. Yes, tourists love military attack planes hundreds of feet away from them when they leave their stressful lives for an idyllic vacation in rural Maine. Maybe they could sell Molotov cocktails to the onlookers for a more authentic feel for wartime.

  5. Let them fly! I am tired of all the liberals who whine over this. Or am I missing the point....someone may lose some money? Your money won't buy freedom. Should we also stop the Life Flight helos from landing and flying low? Ooops! The helos save lives. So do jet fighters.

  6. Vet, you think the primary concern here is that someone will lose money? Do you honestly think anyone here is comparing LifeFlight helicopters in the middle of saving lives to F-15's making practice runs 500 feet above our houses? Yes -- you ARE missing the point.

  7. Vet: Why do you assume that it's just liberals who have a problem with this? This an eminent domain taking. The government is devaluing property owners land with noise pollution without compensation. That's as libertarian as it gets. If your counter argument is that the compensation consists of better military defense, which is a stretch because last time I checked Al-Quaeda didn't need an Air Force, it's still a narrow tax that's not equally shared by all who benefit from this defense. Also, why can't this same training be accomplished in a simulator or over the ocean?

  8. Alright you guys (and gals) really this is nothing new. They have been doing it for the last 40 years. Seamus, really, how is the sky "eminent domain"? it's not owned by anyone. I would rather listen to low flying air craft than a transplanted liberal who can't think outside their pockets. Apparently you don't have family fighting for YOUR freedom in Iraq, Afganistan etc. Training out over the ocean isn't going to prepare anyone for battle in the mountains of Afgainstan. Oh poor you has to listen to a loud noise. Did it disturb your naptime? Forget libertarianism what about PATRIOTISM.

  9. Hey Bill, I guess it depends on what kind of tourist your talking about doesn't it. Maine has the biggest and least populated mountain area on the east coast. What are the other options besides allowing our pilots to go unprepared into battle? Take it to someone elses backyard, right Bill? The big city liberal toursists bring lots of money, thats whats really important.

  10. Isn't property value, MONEY? Help. I want jet fighter pilots to learn, so they can assist ground troops wherever they are! I say, cut your ponytails, shed your sandals and get your panties out of the bunch and support the flights. There are hunters and gatherers. I am a hunter and a free man. And you?

  11. It's evident that the MANG flights topic has touched some nerves in our area, but unfortunately it's also evident that there is a dearth of knowledge and a surplus of emotions about it.That's not a healthy mixture to digest if we want an healthy democracy for us and our kids. Knee-jerk sloganeering, outmoded stereotypes and ridicule betray those with no serious intent to achieve a positive outcome. In fact, the more important any kind of issue is the more important it is to employ careful, factual discussion, just as our Founders intended.

    The proposal in question was so poorly constructed that it was useless to anyone trying to honor the process by which these things are handled. Objectors were not anti-military, rather, they were against what authoritative critics at the highest levels of our government agree was incomplete, misleading, and confusing documentation.

    We're supposed to be informed citizens, responsible for guiding our country to a secure and prosperous future. We have the the right and responsibility to see that due process applies to important matters that come before us. Those caring enough to look into the ANG proposal with any regard for it soon realized that it didn't pass muster by a wide margin. Our Governor sent it back for re-work, and it was re-published with only the most superficial, unsatisfactory changes. That's why we're aroused and objecting strenuously.

    Of course in America anyone can sound off whether they know what they're talking about or not. But if you take your citizenship and patriotism seriously, you will not stoop to ridiculous and corrosive rhetoric when considering important issues; rather, you will do a careful, well-informed and well-reasoned job of it.

  12. What' s ridiculus is the way you think you diguise your holier than thou, yet "corrosive" rhetoric. The facts are still the same. These flights have been taking place in one form or another for the last 40 years. No one would be aroused and object if they were more interested in the greater good of our country than thier own personal interests. Sometimes we all have to make sacrifices. Some are a lot bigger than others.

  13. This is a serious issue and it deserves serious discourse. It is not and should not be a bar room brawl. I'm not going to question anyone's patriotism and I expect the same level of courtesy, in return. No one owns a definition of what a patriot is and claiming you can define patriotism for others has no bearing on the effect of low military flights.

    No one in this forum knows what sacrifices other people have made. Nor does anyone have the right to decide how others should sacrifice or suffer.

    The process we are going through is a civilian democratic process, the purpose of which is to preserve the rights of all participants. Listening to different sides while striving to preserve rights is what democracies are all about.

  14. From The Free Dictionary(online) a patriot is "a person who loves his or her country and passionately supports it's interest"

    My Father, myself and my Son all served in the Military and at one time or another, were saved by low flying aircraft.

    I think our service men and women deserve only the best of help from us.

    Some people worry over noise pollution, scaring animals and rich tourists more then the poor souls defending us.

    Those who defend only their wealth, need to prove to the poor young people in the military how defeating practice flights passionately supports America.

  15. Very nicely said "Vet" thank you for you and yours defending our country.