Franklin Countys First News

Letter to the Editor: Low-flight proposal a bad idea

"We're from the government and we're here to help you..."

On Saturday, I was one of many who attended the hearing on the Massachusetts Air National Guard's low-flight proposal. This proposal was a bad idea in 1992 when the same plan was defeated, and it is a bad idea again today.

In 1992, Governor McKernan and Senator Cohen (both Republicans and the latter subsequently becoming Defense Secretary) were both OPPOSED when these types of low-level military flights were originally proposed for Western Maine. In response to that 1992 attempt and its related Environment Impact Statement (EIS), McKernan found that the proposal "poses an unacceptable threat to Maine's economic and environmental resources and public health" and that it showed "a fundamental disregard for interests of the people of Maine."

It was true then, and it is true now. This is still a bad idea.

All afternoon Saturday and into the evening, citizen after citizen from towns all across Western Maine took to the floor to tell the panel why this was a bad idea. Many excellent arguments about why the EIS was flawed were presented. Many were well qualified people with sound technical arguments. Many of them were ex-military pilots who love their country, but realize this proposal is a mistake.

Out of the crowd of at least 200, there were well over 50 who spoke their minds and their hearts. Only 3 of these fellow citizens expressed an opinion towards accepting these flights. The basis for these 3 favorable opinions boiled down to the fact that our military needs training in mountain terrain, so we should let them do that here. Part of me agrees with the fact that our military needs training. It's the part of me that has a very dear brother-in-law John in the Mountain Division of the Maine Guard and who will be deployed again to the Middle East next month. This time it will be to Afghanistan. I would like well-trained air cover for John to ensure he comes back intact to his native Maine where I've enjoyed many peaceful and quiet times hiking, kayaking, and skiing with him. However, the logical part of me knows there are many alternatives to training above Western Maine.

This is not a question of whether we here in Maine are patriotic or not. It's a question of whether it makes sense for Maine. The clear answer is that it does not make any sense whatsoever. Just like our timber and our water, our airspace is a resource. It's a resource tied to the peaceful and quiet environment so many of us enjoy daily and so many others enjoy when they visit with their tourist dollars here or move here to work and live here like I chose to. What we have here in Maine is a gift. This flight proposal will take that peaceful and quiet environment from us. More astounding is that it offers Maine nothing in return. It is a taking of a vital economic resource that will be gone once we allow this flight proposal to happen. Maine simply cannot afford it. We can't give our gift away.

It is clear that our military has several viable alternatives to doing their training here. First off, they already train in the Western United States. I believe one of the citizen speakers at the hearing pointed out that the military estimates they would save just over a million dollars by having a training site closer to the Barnes ANG Base in Massachusetts. If this proposal happens, the cumulative effect to Western Maine in terms of reduced tourism, property value losses, damage from the inevitable accidents which will indeed occur, impact upon wildlife, and so many other things we can't even predict will be into the MULTIPLES of millions of dollars. This economic impact is real. Moreover, it is wholly unnecessary.

Aside from the flights that already occur out West and aside from the very feasible option of flight simulators, there are at least two other airspaces mentioned in the current EIS. One being the Adirondack Airspace Complex in upstate New York -- this is mountain terrain. The other being the combined Yankee1 and Yankee 2 areas shared by Vermont and New Hampshire -- this too is a mountain terrain. All things being equal, both of those alternative areas are CLOSER to the Barnes ANG Base in Massachusetts than our airspace here in Western Maine. So if they want to reduce their costs by training closer to their base that is what they should do. Choose something closer. Maine does not qualify.

I am very grateful that our legislative representatives from throughout Western Maine and from the Penobscot Nation were present at the hearing. There were no party lines. They spoke in unison against this plan. Governor Baldacci has also spoken against this plan. The overwhelming majority of citizens who were a striking cross-section of people here in Western Maine spoke against this plan.

I am a firm believer in government, but I also believe that a government should listen to its people. At the hearing we spoke loudly and clearly against this plan. I urge you to join me in contacting Senators Snowe (tel. 1-800-432-1599) and Collins (tel. 1-202-224-2523) and Representative Michaud (tel. 1-202-225-6306) to let them know that what was true in 1992 is true today. This low-flight plan poses an unacceptable threat to Maine's economic and environmental resources and public health, and it shows a fundamental disregard for the interests of the people of Maine.

Please do your part and please do voice your concerns. Let's make our government listen!
  
Dennis Haszko
Farmington

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