Public input sought for Air Force training at Belen's municipal airport

........................................................................................................................................................................................

The U.S. Air Force is asking Valencia County residents for their feedback on their plan to train pilots and air crews on a proposed runway at Belen's Alexander Municipal Airport.

The landing zone would be parallel to the existing runway. It would allow the Air Force to provide realistic training conditions for C-130 crews as part of the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base to practice training activities, including short-field landings and takeoffs and use of night vision goggles.

A 417-page draft environmental assessment, published in June, found no significant adverse effect would result from conducting these training activities at the Belen airport. The deadline to provide public comment is Monday, Aug. 12.

"We encourage those who have any interest in the county to look at this document and send us their comments," said Air Force spokesperson John Cochran.

The draft environmental assessment analyzed airspace use and management, noise, land use, air quality, earth resources and biological, cultural and water resources. Also analyzed were hazardous materials and waste, ground and flight safety and socioeconomic resources at the site.

The draft is available for review at six libraries, including the Belen Public Library, 333 Becker Ave. Electronic copies of the document can be downloaded from Kirtland Air Force Base's website, www.kirtland.af.mil/environment.asp.

Simulated real-world conditions that air crews may face while carrying out humanitarian, rescue and other special operations missions on military transport aircraft, are currently not available.

Although training flights are completed at Roswell International Air Center, Pueblo Memorial Airport and Albuquerque International Sunport, they don't provide air crews with real-world training because of light pollution and excess noises.

"Anytime we can get realistic training, it's a good thing," said Martha Garcia, National Environmental Policy Act program manager.

Air crews would use the runway about one to two times a week during daylight hours and four to five times a week during night time, Garcia said. Depending on the type of training, air crews could conduct half-hour training sessions at a time.

The project, which Airport Manager Robert Uecker said has been in the works for 10 years, would help Belen's airport to operate in the black instead of the red.

"Most small airports are not self-sustaining," Uecker said.

Without the proposed runway, the Air Force would continue to spend additional funds to travel to airports in and out of the state to conduct this training.

Night-time training also would be completed on runways with "substantial lighting from nearby population centers that would limit the effectiveness of the training using night vision enhancement technologies, and potentially causing safety concerns for pilots," the document states.

Public comments can be mailed to the Kirtland AFB NEPA Program Manager at 377 MSG/CEIE, 2050 Wyoming Blvd. SE, Bldg. 20685, Ste. 126, Kirtland AFB, NM, 87117-5270 or emailed to NEPA@kirtland.af.mil.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.