The U.S. Navy released their final Environmental Impact Statement on Jan. 10 which addresses the expansion and modernization of the Fallon Range Training Complex for the Naval Air Station Fallon. They concluded no significant environmental harm would come from its proposed tripling of the size of the Nevada bombing training range
Calling for one last meeting with the Navy, Churchill County Commissioners met last week to discuss county concerns and to allow residents to make comments regarding the Navy’s plan. Churchill County expressed concerns about moving forward with the project but the EIS explained that “the preferred alternative would have no significant impacts on cultural or biological resources and only “minimal” impacts on the greater sage grouse.”
The Navy’s plan will affect five counties: Churchill, Lyon, Mineral, Nye and Pershing.
Nevada News Group senior reporter Steve Ranson attended the meeting and sat down with Navy officials to discuss the expansion and modernization with Rob Rule, Naval Air Station Fallon’s community plans and liaison officer and Alex stone, EIS program manager with the Navy’s U.S. Pacific Fleet who has been working on the proposal for a number of years.
Nevada News Group asked them to explain what will happen with the Dixie Valley Training Area (DVTA) east of Fallon. The representatives from the Navy explained that even though the County Commissioners in Churchill are uneasy the “DVTA access will not be restricted. We stated that in the EIS, the Record of Decision and legislative. There are multiple points of validation,” Rule said.
The closing off of the southeast portion of B-17 near Gabbs will have an impact on hunting and tribal access but Rule explained that a plan exists for both hunters and tribal members to access the land.
Rule explained that the Big Horn Sheep in the mountain areas have been an “important asset for the Nevada Department of Wildlife”, Ranson reported.
“We will have a managed access plan for hunter,” Rule explained. The range will be open during a 15 day window around Christmas. It was explained that the range goes cold for the holidays but is designated for training during the other 50 weeks. He also explained that the Navy will work with tribal groups for access to ceremonial or cultural areas.
The renewal of the existing public land withdraw consists of 202,859 acres. The renewal includes 27,359 acres for Bravo-16, 53.547 acres fir bravo-17, 29,012 acres for Bravo-19, 21,576 acres for Bravo-20, 68,804 acres for the Dixie Valley Training Area and 2,561 for the Shoal Site. Along with the listed, the Navy is proposing withdraw and reserve for military use about 604,789 acres of additional public land and acquiring 65,160 acres of non-federal land.
The withdrawal covers five-county areas that include airspace, land ranges and electronic systems used primarily for air and ground training activities.
“…State Route 839 (to Gabbs) will be left in its current configuration but would expand eastward, requiring the rerouting of state Route 361. B-17 would also expand southward, requiring the relocation of a portion of the Paiute Pipeline,” according to the Navy’s proposal.
When Ranson asked “Must the state highway Nevada 361 that runs from U.S. Highway 50 at Middlegate Station to Gabbs be rerouted?” Rule explained that the Navy had been working with the Nevada Department of Transportation for more than three years to come up with a plan, but the Navy said a portion of the highway will be rebuilt east of B-17.
“The main reason the proposed training areas shifted is because of the Rawhide Mine,” Rule explained. Rule cited that Rawhide is an economic driver in both Churchill and Mineral counties and because of input from the stakeholders; he said the Navy agreed to shift the range more to the southeast. Rule also said the range expansion will not affect the Gabbs Airport.
In case of medical emergencies or fire suppression, the ranges would shut down to allow for appropriate responding teams to respond.
The need for the expansion was explained by Zip Upham, public information officer at NAS Fallon, regarding the concerns about the size of the range which became an issue with the Navy’s warfighting capabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. Discussion began with previous interviews with Ranson under the Obama Administration.
The Navy said in their release, “The proposed modernization would provide training capabilities that are more realistic and are needed to meet changing aviation and ground training requirements, while maintaining the safety of local communities.”
Retired Capt. David Holloran, who became the face of the Navy’s proposal to various groups around western Nevada, said all deploying aviation and naval special warfare units train on Fallon ranges. With advanced weaponry, Halloran said more air space is needed to launch missiles toward their targets or for Navy SEALs to conduct more realistic worldwide training. According to Halloran, pilots need to least 12 to 14 miles to launch their missiles toward targets, and a larger range will provide 99.9 percent accuracy.
Holloran explained that since the mid-1990s, Fallon’s training has increased with the Navy’s Top Gun and other schools combining their operations to form the current Naval Aviation Warfighting Development center. He said NAWDC now comprises eight schools and provides better training than what pilots receive on deployments.
Rule explained that this is the Navy’s final recommendation. He explained that there are 100 percent commitments on many items in the EIS, but he said the Navy will keep options open. The final decision after the Secretary of the Navy reviews the plan will be made by Congress. Stone said a balance is defining what the Navy wants to do and the flexibility in implementing the modernization and expansion.
After the 28-day meeting, there is a 30-day review period and then the Secretary of the Navy will issue a Record of Decision. From February to June or July, Congress will review the proposal and take action in the next National Defense Authorization Act.