Navy officials explained in detailed military terms the “logic” behind the Fallon Range Training Complex expansion during last week’s special meeting of the Pershing County Commission.
Modern, longer range weapons and tactics required to protect pilots and other military personnel have outgrown the limited training ground and airspace at the FRTC, Navy officials said.
After 27 aircraft were lost during Desert Storm, the military has been striving to increase aircraft safety by keeping them out of ground-based “threat weapon envelopes” according to the Navy Range Complex Sustainment Coordinator Jerry Burns. The FRTC is “severely deficient” in the amount of land and air needed for long range training, so a modernization plan was needed, he said.
Navy officials stressed the importance of the FRTC for essential aircraft carrier crew training.
“Every single pilot and aircrew comes through Fallon right before they go to the carrier,” Burns said. “There’s nowhere else that we can do this. You think about moving that air space, it’s pretty much unmanageable, especially when you have 300 clear flying days a year. You move to North Dakota and you’re not going to get that.”
County officials expressed concern over the plan’s impacts on county roads, property taxes, PILT and economic development. Navy officials promised to keep those concerns in mind.
The Navy will release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement in the spring of 2018 followed by a 90-day comment period. The Final EIS will be released in the fall of 2019, with a Record of Decision to follow in the winter of 2019/2020. Congress will make the final decision on the plan.
The expansion would more than quadruple the size of the complex with extensions of three bombing ranges plus other ground and aerial training areas. More public land would be off limits to the public and additional private land would be acquired by the military at “fair market value.”
The Bravo 20 bombing range expansion would extend the FRTC across the Churchill/Pershing county line. A checkerboard of private/public land would be the first land in Pershing County to be acquired by the Navy. About 18 miles of Bombing Range Road would be closed to the public.
County Commissioner Rob McDougal said the proposed Bravo 20 expansion could impact economic development in Pershing County. The expanded range would overlap and close a public road and could impact an iron mine that’s expected to reopen, he told Navy officials.
“We would like the Navy to work on a compromise of the northwest (B-20) expansion,” McDougal said. “This is an economic development issue for Pershing County.”
Assistance with road realignment and a railroad spur could reduce the impact, he said.
“We will work with the county on a compromise,” said Navy Community Planner Rob Rule.
McDougal inquired how the Navy will mitigate the county’s loss of property tax revenues.
Rule asked county officials to provide the per-acre tax impacts for evaluation by the Navy.
District Attorney Bryce Shields listed potential impacts on the county at an earlier meeting.
“The Navy is proposing to expand that bombing range well into Pershing County across the Pershing/Churchill line,” he told county leaders. “That expansion would cut off at least three county roads, it may affect a natural spring and it may impact our PILT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) because the Navy would become the owner of that property if it were withdrawn.”
Property on hold
James Drake, 35, has stopped all work on his Pershing County property. The 40-acre parcel is just south of Bombing Range Road in a checkerboard of public and private land targeted for bombing range expansion. His land’s fair market value is far below the investments he’s already made.
After an earlier public hearing hosted by the Navy, Drake sent a written suggestion for an alternative Bravo 20 expansion to the south instead of north into Pershing County.
“I haven’t heard anything from the Navy yet. All the projects have been put on hold,” he said last week. “There is just too much uncertainty with the expansion threatening to take the land.”
Drake pointed out the other impacts the B-20 expansion would have on ranchers, miners, hunters, other public land uses, outdoor recreation as well as Pershing County tax revenues.
“Ranchers using this area for grazing will have to relocate their livestock and find other grazing areas,” he said. “There’s small scale mining and ranching utilizing the area directly affected by this expansion that will also have to be removed.”
Rule told county leaders that expansion of the Bravo 20 bombing range to the south instead of north may be out of the question since that would impact the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge.
Lovelock Valley farmer Carl Clinger attended the Navy presentation and hopes there’s room for compromise on access to alternative county roads. Otherwise, he supports the expansion plan.
“This presentation was fantastic and really explained the motivation behind their huge expansion,” he said. “We’re all patriotic and we want the military to be able to defend us. We don’t want those pilots dying on us because they weren’t properly trained.”
Lovelock resident Dixie McKay’s family and friends were forced out of Dixie Valley by the 1990’s after “friendly condemnation” of their properties by the Navy to make way for the training range.
She and her husband still visit the area and she has a Facebook page dedicated to Dixie Valley
A wooden plaque in the couple’s front room is a reminder of what happened in Dixie valley. McKay recalled when residents buried a collection of mementos during a memorial service.
“Dixie Valley residents came together for a funeral service at the school house. They made a child sized coffin and everybody put in something that they felt applied to losing their valley. My Dad put in a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I remember Freddy put in a bird’s nest because sometimes the sonic booms would knock baby birds right out of their nests.”