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Low-flying military craft headed for southern Colorado?

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The U.S. Air Force has delayed release of an environmental impact study of its proposal to conduct intensive low-altitude training flights across a wide swath of southern Colorado -- flights as low as 200 feet that had raised concerns among local ranchers and residents seeking the quiet life.

Cannon Air Force Base officials say their current training routes over flat terrain were mainly designed for F-16s. The proposed corridors, which stretch from New Mexico to Las Animas and neighboring counties in southern Colorado, present more diverse conditions and wider training opportunities for cargo aircraft such as the C-130 and the helicopter-like CV-22 Osprey, seen in the photo above.

But locals have balked at the prospect of up to three flyovers a day without narrowly defined routes. Not 1 More Acre!, among the grassroots groups battling the Army's expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, has described the Low Altitude Training Navigation proposal as"part of a plan to establish the largest Joint Forces Future Combat Systems training site in the world by expanding Air Force Special Operations air space across northern New Mexico and southern Colorado for unmanned aircraft development, low altitude flights and testing of high-tech weaponry."

An Air Force spokesman maintains that the delay in the draft environmental assessment, originally scheduled to be released in May but now slated for this fall, is merely a matter of fine-tuning the study and its mitigation measures. (See this account in the Pueblo Chieftain.)

For local citizens who've already seen the Army take a huge bite out of their wide open spaces, though, the LATN plan looms as one more incursion into their homes on the range. They wonder, particularly in calving season, if their livestock will understand that the noisy bird overhead comes in peace.

More from our News archive: "Pinon Canyon: Scott Tipton gets ban on military expansion restored."

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