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Deseret News

Others Join Hansen Fight To Protect Training Ranges

Lee Davidson

May 10, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Deseret News Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jim Hansen once was a lone voice warning that military training ranges are being elbowed out of existence by encroaching development and environmental lawsuits.

But on Wednesday, the Utah Republican was joined by a booming chorus of Pentagon officials and virtually the entire House Government Reform Committee who expressed similar, growing worries.

"The availability of realistic training is eroding," said Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind. "Training ranges here and overseas are under siege from the land, the water, the air and the airwaves. . . .

"It's being hemmed in by commercial development, environmental regulations, airspace restrictions and conflicts over use of the radio frequency spectrum," he said.

Similar worries were echoed by representatives of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. For example, Air Force Gen. John P. Jumper, head of Air Combat Command, said if trends continue, "America will soon lose its only edge in combat proficiency," namely realistic training.

Burton invited Hansen -- who is not a member of his committee --to join in a hearing on the problem, saying it was "largely a result of his efforts that the Pentagon began to focus on encroachment issues."

Hansen said during the hearing that the vast Utah Test and Training Range has faced less encroachment than most ranges -- but even it faces challenges.

He complained of "huge encroachment from the environmental community because they found the slimy slug or the ringtailed rufus or something out there" and said lawsuits have been filed to limit activities and overflights there.

Hansen complained of efforts by the Goshute Indians seeking to establish a nuclear waste repository in Skull Valley. He said that according to UTTR officials, avoiding flying over such a nearby repository could "cut back the range 30 or 40 percent all by itself."

Hansen, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said encroachment elsewhere is more serious, such as on Vieques Island near Puerto Rico . Protests by residents have often stopped testing there -- even though it is the only live-fire range on the East Coast where air and water maneuvers may be combined.

"I'm somewhat amazed we are now going through this exercise on whether we will train there," Hansen said. "I'd be curious where you Navy people think you are going to go. I've heard Jordan . . . to Scotland, to Italy and other areas. I seriously doubt any of those are going to work."

Hansen said, "National defense that benefits all Americans is not a luxury. . . . It requires access to realistic training. Therefore our military ranges must be treated as the national assets they are and must be preserved for the security of the nation."

Burton said he plans a series of hearings on how military readiness may be affected by encroachment on test and training ranges and how it should be addressed.

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