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Pinon Canyon: Air Force retreats on noisy flyovers, but where will they go?

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After years of battling the U.S. Army over its efforts to expand the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, beleagured ranchers in southeastern Colorado got a reprieve this week from another branch of the military. The Air Force won't be conducting intensive low-altitude training in the area after all.

According to this account in the Pueblo Chieftain, Air Force officials informed Representative Scott Tipton that they've dropped plans to expand corridors for low-altitude flights, as low as 200 feet, across New Mexico and much of southern Colorado, including Pinon Canyon. That could have meant as many as three flights a day for a wide range of craft, from fighter jets to cargo craft such as the C-130 and the helicopter-like CV-22 Osprey (seen in the photo above).

Instead, the Air Force plans to focus its draft environmental study, due out in a few weeks, on other routes in New Mexico and western Colorado. That's a break for communities around the Army's Pinon Canyon site, which has drawn protests over damage done to historical sites and imperiled species -- and most of all over an audacious plan to expand the site by as much as 10,000 square miles. The plan was withdrawn in the wake of outrage from legislators and locals.

But where, exactly, in "western Colorado" will the Air Force be doing its training? The treacherous San Juans? The mesas around Grand Junction? Telluride's box canyon?

The folks at Cannon Air Force Base aren't providing any more details at present, other than a preference for "diverse terrain." But if you see an Osprey or two buzzing the Hotel Jerome on your next Aspen ski trip, don't panic. They're supposed to be on our side.

More from our News archive: "Pinon Canyon controversy: Tim Wirth blasts 'bankrupt' defense policy."

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