By BRIAN FERRY
The need for low-altitude military training is up against economic and environmental impacts to the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Related to a proposal by the Maryland Air National Guard that could bring low-altitude flights to the region on a regular and ongoing basis, Congressman Glenn GT Thompson (R-15) stands on the side of the Pennsylvania Wilds.
The public comment period for a proposed Low Military Operating Area (MOA) — a modification of an existing MOA — ended on Dec. 31, 2021. The proposal would allow flights down to 100 feet above ground level to be conducted in the MOA.
In a Feb. 3 letter, Thompson and Congressmen Fred Keller (R-12) and Dan Meuser (R-9) asked for more chances for the public to hear and be heard and for a detailed environmental analysis of proposed changes to training flights in the region.
“The main purpose of the proposed modification to the Duke Military Operating Area (MOA) is to provide low-altitude airspace to accurately train and prepare for current and future conflicts in an integrated, year-round, and realistic training environment,” according to a website created by the Maryland Air National Guard (MDANG) to help explain the proposal. “The modified low-altitude airspace will provide MDANG A-10 pilots the ability to train so they protect American and ally troops on the ground as well as perform search and rescue missions.”
The Duke MOA does not touch Warren County. It includes portions of McKean, Elk, Potter, Cameron, Clinton, and Tioga counties — as well as slivers of both Cattaraugus and Allegany counties in New York. The proposed Low MOA has a slightly smaller footprint — cutting out most of Elk County.
Thompson and PA Wilds officials stress their opposition is not to military operations.
“I know some people fear that by speaking up they will be seen as anti-military,” PA Wilds Center CEO said in a November release. “I can say unequivocally that is not what this is about. We are a hugely patriotic region and respect and value our military. But there is potentially a lot at stake for rural PA with this proposal, and it is important for us to ask for more due diligence on it.”
“Military readiness is of the utmost importance, yet I remain concerned with the potential economic and environmental impacts additional low military flights will have upon the region,” Thompson said in the letter. “Prior to moving forward with these plans, the Air National Guard should meet with the community to ensure their questions and concerns are addressed.”
“A public meeting would provide more transparency for citizens of North Central Pennsylvania and Southern New York and allow an opportunity for the public to ask questions,” he said. “We also respectfully request the completion of a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). As you know, an EIS is required, according to the National Environmental Policy Act, when the proposed action may reach ‘substantial environmental controversy concerning the significance or nature of the environmental impact.”
According to a release, the letter requests a public meeting, a full Environmental Impact Statement, and the Congressmen’s voices “opposition to the proposed Low Military Operation Area.”
“The Air National Guard (ANG) released the Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) and has issued a draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI),” Enos said. “The FONSI states that the ANG finds that the increased, low-altitude flying of A10s, F-16s and other military aircraft will have no significant impact on the welfare of the region.”
“Our understanding is this proposed MOA means residents and visitors in these counties could hear and see A-10Cs, F-16s and other military aircraft flying very low over their homes, cabins, or popular outdoor recreation destinations multiple times per day every other day of the year, if not more frequently, for many years to come,” she said. “I have a hard time believing this will not impact quality of life for residents, wildlife, livestock, the visitor experience, and small businesses dependent on visitor spending.”
“PA Wilds Center has asked the ANG to do a full, more robust, Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) so we can all better understand what the impacts will be,” Enos said.