Crowd of 100 fight lowering Maine flight floor

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FARMINGTON – The Air National Guard had asked for public input on a proposal to lower the floor of military aircraft training above Western Maine, and they got it Wednesday at their fourth public meeting held at the University of Maine at Farmington.

More than 100 people came to voice concerns ranging from noise and safety to the future of the ecotourism based economy that’s being developed in an area that has lost numerous manufacturing jobs.

Col. L. Scott Rice from the Massachusetts Air Guard explained that the goal of the meeting was to receive input on how the changes to the airspace would affect the community. This information would be part of the study given to the FAA for approval to lower the training floor over Western Maine to 500 feet above the ground.

Whether it was a forgone conclusion that the low-level training would take place regardless of what was said in Farmington was the first of many questions and comments posed during the meeting. Rice said the answer was no.

Noise, local airports and planes, birds and wildfires caused by flares were just a few of the points mentioned by Nancy O’Toole of Phillips, an environmental engineer. The noise level of F15 jets at 500 feet, she said, would reach 112 decibels for a 10- to 20-second period. Levels for humans should not exceed 70 decibels, and a rate of 120 decibels causes human pain, to say nothing of the effect on animals.

The F-15 pilots, she said, rely on their visual sight and their experience to fly, since they cannot communicate from the air in this area. An F-15 flying at 400 mph and a private plane at 90-120 mph in the same space will depend on the pilot’s being able to see and avoid the private plane.

The F-15 pilots would be training for approximately half-hour periods, Rice said, mostly in the winter months because during warmer periods the planes cannot carry fuel tanks, which are needed to reach the area from Massachusetts. The training will take place approximately 40 to 60 hours a year, he said.

“Tourism has become a very important component of our economic building blocks since the loss of our manufacturing base over the last few decades, said Bill Crandall, chairman of the board of directors of Opportunity Center of North Franklin County in Avon. “Our lives and our livelihoods are based on the quiet of the north woods. We do not need any additional negative components to our region’s depressed economy, and we believe low-level flights may be yet another negative impact.”

Crandall went on to request a full Environmental Impact Statement be conducted, saying that some have just recently become aware of the proposed change to the airspace. He also requested a vote of those present. A show of hands revealed all those in attendance opposed lowering the flight floor.

Calling it an open season on Western Maine, one Rangeley resident also voiced her concern for the ecotourism of the Rangeley area.

From Nestle Water tankers going down the Main Street to wind turbines and now jets at 500 feet, the area would not be welcoming for tourists and second-home owners. They want to come to a place more peaceful than the one they left, she said.

The experience of having a jet fighter fly over your house at a low altitude is invasive and terrifying, said Chris Wright of Solon. It’s not just the noise. It’s the whole experience.

Rice also encouraged all who spoke to submit their opinions in writing to Lt. Cmdr. Landon Jones, NGB/A7CVN, 3500 Fechet Ave., Andrews AFB, MD, 20762.

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