Public hearing on low flight training grounded

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FARMINGTON — The Air National Guard has postponed indefinitely a public hearing planned for Wednesday at the University of Maine at Farmington on their proposed low altitude flight training over Western Maine, according to Gov. John E. Baldacci.

“The meeting has been delayed while we address comments from the governor’s office,” said Major Stephen R. Lippert from the Air National Guard on Monday.

The governor sent a letter Friday requesting that the National Guard Bureau postpone the public hearing on the draft environmental impact statement for six to nine months to review concerns raised by Western Maine residents, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Attorney General’s Office, as stated in a release from the governor’s office.

“The Air National Guard must meet a burden of proof,” Baldacci said in the release. “Based on the points that have been made by state agencies and residents, I believe the Air National Guard must do more work to assure me and the people of Western Maine that no significant impact will result from the proposed changes that would allow low-level training flights over Maine.”

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Proposed changes to Condor space would drop flight levels from 7,000 to 500 feet in military operation areas used for training by the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard in Westfield, Mass. The Condor space covers portions of Franklin, Oxford, Piscataquis and Somerset counties in Maine and part of Coos County in New Hampshire.

The governor’s letter sent to ANG reflected comments made during a meeting Thursday requested by some Western Maine residents and legislators with Kat Fuller from the Maine Department of Transportation. They wanted to share information for her to pass on to the governor, she said Monday.

Baldacci’s letter included DOT concerns regarding safety issues for aircraft that cannot be seen by radar and the need for an independent study on the impact of noise from the training flights on the area.

Residents continued to voice concerns that the draft EIS does not adequately respond to the social and economical impact on an area increasingly dependent on tourism. They also raised concerns regarding the effect of noise on wildlife.

The reason and need for the proposed changes to flight levels and why the training needs to be done here is not clear to many local residents with some indicating there was not sufficient notice of the proposed public hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

After considering a number of concerns and receiving a review from the Environmental Protection Agency, the public hearing was called within a two- to three-week period because the ANG wanted to do it when both seasonal and nonseasonal residents would be in town, said Lt. Col. Mike Milford.

The ANG wants to be receptive to people in the community, he said while declining to comment on any further action the ANG would take.

“The governor’s letter has been received,” he said.

A lack of consideration on the impact of low level flights on the Appalachian Trail and its users raised concerns from Maine’s attorney general. The draft environmental impact statement also does not indicate consideration or communication with the Penobscot Nation, which owns more than 60,000 acres in the proposed low-flight area and which is planning some development projects on their property.

abryant@sunjournal.com

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