Air Force releases EIS for Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex
Alaska-based armed forces need more places to train, and options for expanding uses of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex have been released for public comment with the draft environmental impact statement.
JPARC consists of all the land, air and water used for Department of Defense training, be it Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps. It covers approximately 65,000 square miles of available airspace, 2,490 square miles of land within 1.5 million acres of maneuver land, and 42,000 square nautical miles of surface, subsurface and overlying airspace in the Gulf of Alaska.
Each year, JPARC hosts several large-scale and joint training exercises, such as Red Flag, Northern Edge and Arctic Edge. It consists of lands ranging from the Yukon down to Anchorage and Valdez. However, most of the activities are concentrated in the middle around Donnelly Training Area, and spread outward coordinated by Alaskan Command, or ALCOM.
The draft EIS outlines a series of enhancements and new operations to incorporate more realistic training exercise, new technologies, responses to recent battlefield experience and new weapons and equipment training.
Twelve areas of interest are examined with different proposals, including no action alternatives. Some of these alternatives cover missile live fires, live ordinance deliveries in restricted areas, unmanned aerial vehicle corridors, a proposed joint precision airdrop system, enhanced ground space access and intermediate staging bases among other enhancements.
Six of these proposals are definitive, meaning there is enough detail on them that they may be implemented as soon as a Record of Decision is signed. The other six are programmatic and need additional planning.
Lt. Col. Howard Hunt, ALCOM training and exercises director, said the purpose of these options is to provide a better DOD training facility that will allow improved capability for existing and future weapon systems.
In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, ALCOM is examining potential environmental consequences before submitting a final EIS. Part of this process includes gathering public input through June 7.
The Air Force is conducting 10 public hearings throughout the regions with the most geographic ties to the plan. People can also view the EIS on the JPARC website (www.jparceis.com) and submit comment that way. A Record of Decision is expected in 2013.
Hunt and Lt. Col. Mike Cabal of ALCOM training and exercises stressed that the most important thing at this stage is public involvement.
“We look forward to public involvement,” Hunt said. “We want there to be comments to make this a better document.”
The first hearing was on May 11 in Anchorage, and it started slow. Hunt said that is expected since the affected areas are further out in the state. More hearings will be held in Palmer, Glennallen, Paxson, Delta Junction, Fairbanks, Healy, Talkeetna and Wasilla.
To help ensure objectivity, an Air Force judge advocate Col. William Orr came in from Washington, D.C., to preside over the hearing. Orr said federal requirements mandate that a judge outside the Alaska Air Command must do so at each of the environmental hearings.
Only three Anchorage community members testified publicly. Gregory Razo, vice president of Cook Inlet Region Inc., spoke favorably of the plan, saying it allows positive impacts for workforce development. He said there is high unemployment in JPARC areas, especially for Natives.
Razo said he believes this plan allows “unprecedented” training opportunities and development. He said CIRI has found little environmental impacts to subsistence users.
The next commenter was Terry Cartee, who represented himself as a private citizen, and he had some concerns. He said a proposed boundary movement for a Fox 3 Military Operations Area expansion northeast of the Mat-Su valley could represent a safety hazard, particularly with lower flying altitudes.
The other public comment came from an energy activist, Paul D. Kendall, who urged the Air Force to consider cold fusion technology into its plan.
Cabal said the small crowd was understandable given Anchorage’s distance from the activities, and that this was comparable to the crowd size during last year’s scoping and he expects more will participate in other areas.
Jonathan Grass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.