Air Force plans impact study

By Marlena Hartz : Freedom Newspapapers

The Air Force must evaluate the potential environmental impact of proposed Special Ops training missions at Cannon Air Force Base and Melrose Bombing Range before aircraft can be moved to the base, an Air Force spokeswoman said Thursday.

Officials announced Tuesday 92 aircraft would be transferred to Cannon when the Air Force Special Operations 16th Wing inherits the base over the next 15 months. The transfer is part of the federal base-closing process in which the Department of Defense decided to relocate Cannon’s F-16 wing and find a new mission for the High Plains installation.

A date for the launch of the environmental impact study has not been set, according to Jean Schaeffer, secretary of Air Force Public Affairs and chief of the Air Force Current Operations Division.

“We do not have that detail, but we know (the study) must be done before the arrival of the planes,” Schaeffer said.
The Air Force Special Operations Command will accept ownership of Cannon and the Melrose Range on Oct. 1, 2007.

Environmental studies at Cannon are expected to consume 15 to 18 months, Schaeffer said.

Such studies would examine flora and fauna at Cannon and Melrose Bombing Range, the impact that emissions from aircraft would have on the area, and possible species that would be endangered as a result of training, according to Mike Poston, deputy base civil engineer at Cannon.

The list of aircraft slated to replace F-16 squadrons at Cannon has not been finalized, according to an Air Force press release, but officials have indicated it could include AC-130U Gunships, MC-130H Combat Talon IIs, MC-130P Combat Shadows and CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotors, among other aircraft.

According to Col. Margaret Poore, co-chair of the Cannon Air Force Base Restoration Advisory Board, environmental concerns with the incoming aircraft will likely be similar to those with the F-16s currently stationed at Cannon. Poore said the largest environmental threat posed by the 27th Fighter Wing currently at Cannon is from fuel spills.

At Cannon, 29 waste-management sites await review or investigation by the New Mexico Environment Department, according to documentation provided by the Base Restoration Advisory Board. Thirty-four additional sites have been determined safe.

Areas of environmental concern at the base are cordoned off until deemed safe by the New Mexico Environment Department, Poore said.

Damage caused by one fuel spill at Cannon will cost $460,000 for the Air Force to clean up in fiscal year 2006, according to the Board.

Two other fuel spill sites, as well as an oil spill caused by the explosion of an electrical capacitor at the base, did not cause contamination, according to tests completed by the Board. The New Mexico Environment Department has yet to respond to those findings.

Cannon has received awards for its environmental stewardship, however.

“The Air Force takes environmental stewardship very seriously,” Poore said.

That sense of stewardship does not waver much from base to base, she said.