Wednesday, January 16, 2008


A whole bunch of local residents around Socorro, New Mexico are a little concerned about a proposed training "drop zone" at New Mexico Tech's Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center.

That's a dropping things from planes kind of "drop zone."

They've raised questions about the flight path and elevation restrictions for the involved planes, impacts of noise, the shaking of their homes, possible mistakes, and a variety of environmental issues over the U.S. Air Force plan.

The Air Force apparently never gave any of that much thought themselves.

Those feisty New Mexicans are also less then happy with the fact that up until now no one has seemed the least bit interested in what those who live near the zone or those who live under the flight path of soon to be screaming low flying aircraft might think of the whole thing. In fact, in order to find out anything about they had to do some searching.

For example, old Wesley Burris, who lives near the airport, said he got some information upon requesting it from the center, but no one ever returned requests for further discussion.

"So if they don't have anything to hide, why won't they talk to me?" he said.

Burris said the planes might not interfere with the airport, but they would interfere with him if they fly over his property.

Now you'd think the Air Force might have thought of using White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) as a possible drop zone. WSMR airspace is completely under military control. The north end of WSMR is only about 30 road miles further from Kirtland Air Force Base then the one near Socorro.

But no.

Jim Ruff from Socorro writes with a bit of wit:

"The folks who rattle our windows several times a day, sprinkle 'M' Mountain with depleted uranium, and shoot mysterious rounds across the mountain at night - have yet another idea to keep Socorro interesting. They want to establish a "Drop Zone" for military aircraft on the west side of 'M' Mountain."

According to the environmental assessment, they will run up to 10,800 passes per year over the site, resulting in a "slight" increase in aircraft noise. If you've ever been anywhere near a C-130 (a couple of those "little bitsy" buggers are pictured here) or a HH-60 helicopter, you know how loud they are."

Jim also suggests the Air Force use White Sands.

You'd think the federal government which owns most of the land in the West anyway could help the Air Force find someplace to drop crap from the sky a little further from people's homes, especially people who aren't volunteering for the mission.

I don't know about you, but the thought of military aircraft streaking low over my house day and night wouldn't exactly thrill me either. But then I'm a light sleeper.

What you wanna bet the residents of Socorro who are being impacted by this aren't rich and famous?

It seems to me if your looking for a nice drop zone the area around Mr. Bush's home in either DC or Crawford provide a good space.

The following is from the El Defensor Chieftain Reporter (New Mexico)

Council discusses drop zone issue

Socorro County residents raised many questions about the proposed drop zone for U.S. Air Force training on the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center range during Monday's City Council meeting.

During the Jan. 7 meeting at City Hall, Mayor Ravi Bhasker said City Clerk Pat Salome would compile a list of questions and give them to center representatives to answer at the next meeting on Monday, Jan. 28.

Last summer, the testing center ran a legal notice of an environmental assessment for the drop zone available to the public. The mile-square area an the northeast edge of the testing range would primarily be available to Kirtland Air Force Base personnel for training in dropping people and supplies from C-130s.

The assessment said other customers might use the drop zone as well.

At the Dec. 17 meeting, Socorroan Loretta Lowman raised questions, and Bhasker agreed to put the issue on the agenda for Monday's meeting.

Monday, Bhasker read a letter from Van Romero, New Mexico Tech Vice President for Research and Economic Development, explaining why center representatives didn't attend.

"New Mexico Tech is eager to respond to the public questions concerning the establishment of a drop zone on university property," Romero wrote.

The letter continued to say that EMRTC had Lowman's written questions and was formulating answers. However, Romero said Tech personnel needed input from the Air Force and couldn't get it before Jan. 7.

After the Dec. 17 meeting, Salome said, Tech representatives came to City Hall to get more information. Salome said he had assumed they would come to Monday's meeting.

However, after the representatives saw the agenda in the newspaper, they said they couldn't address the concerns then.

Salome said people could bring more questions to him after the meeting.

"The sooner we get it to them, the better," he said of the list of queries for Tech.

Salome wanted to have all questions by noon Thursday.

A number of people at Monday's meeting came forward with concerns, some getting enthusiastic applause after they spoke.

Lowman said she couldn't get responses to her inquiries from the testing center. She said procedures exist for stopping the drop zone after the finding of no significant impact.

Lowman's questions included how the action was filed legally and who determined the drop zone and planes would have no significant impact. She also asked why planners didn't evaluate the cumulative impact of all activities at EMRTC, as law required.

"Why didn't they involve us?" Lowman asked, and added that everyone there was a stakeholder.

Lowman questioned where the flight path would be, why it wasn't mapped out in the environmental assessment and why the report said flights over the city would only last a short time if planes wouldn't fly over Socorro. The draft environmental assessment said planes would use existing flight paths.

With the flight pattern for planes making passes over the drop zone being a large rectangle, Lowman questioned how pilots could avoid flying over U.S. 60, 1.6 miles away.

The assessment said no available evidence indicated that distractions from low-flying aircraft would cause more traffic accidents. Lowman said she found a study indicating occurrences outside the car could cause wrecks.

"And when you're distracted on that road, it can be fatal," she said.

In her protest letter, Lowman said airports must post signs warning of low-flying aircraft because of the visual distraction.

"I want to know, isn't this drop zone like a front door?" Lowman asked.

Lowman was concerned about the action opening the way for other activities. She also said environmental justice laws prohibit significant impact on areas with minority and low-income populations, but drop zone planners didn't consider people in the flight path.

Meeting attendee Paul Lopez asked how the drop zone would benefit Socorro and how much it would help.

Socorro resident Jim Ruff said he believed Socorro would see the same or better economic impact from a drop zone at White Sands Missile Range.

Socorro County resident Wes Burris mentioned significant rattling when C-130s fly over an area.

Lemitar resident Richard Epstein asked why the environmental assessment didn't consider the effect on migratory bird patterns.

Epstein also said the U.S. Air Force sent requests to develop a drop zone to places besides Tech's testing center. He asked what those places were and why they didn't respond.

Resident Joy Miler said the city owned "M" Mountain, and the public had access until they allowed the explosives and weapons testing.

"We don't want to give any more of our city away," she said.

Socorro resident Thomas Guerges asked where the noise level measurements taken locally were. He said the mountain could reflect and thereby amplify sound.

"Is there any real schedule for the mission?" Guerges continued.

The environmental assessment said up to 20 percent of missions would happen at night.

Guerges wanted to know if flight paths would be different at night or in bad weather. He also questioned whether the people who prepared the assessment had adequate scientific background.

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