A teacher wouldn’t accept a report that lacked the author’s name and cited Wikipedia as a source, so neither should the people of Western Maine.
Yet this is what the Air National Guard presented for its Environmental Impact Study of low-level fighter jet flights across its Condor training areas, which stretches across the skies of Oxford, Franklin, Piscataquis and Somerset counties.
It wasn’t received well. The reception was so poor, Gov. John Baldacci sent a letter straight back to the Air National Guard saying the report failed to “meet its burden of proof” that dropping the flight ceiling to 500 feet in Western Maine wouldn’t have negative effects.
“As you can see,” he said, “these assessments strongly suggest that more work needs to be done to assure me and the people of the Western Maine that no significant impacts will result from the proposed changes to the Condor (area).”
This led the Guard to indefinitely postpone a public hearing in Farmington on the report, set for Wednesday.
The report is an underwhelming, 172-page rehash of facts and definitions, but little assessment. Reportedly, the previous environmental study on low-level flights in Condor, performed during the McKernan administration, was seven volumes of information. (And that, observers recall, didn’t even get the job done.)
The new report does not list its author, which should raise questions about credentials. Citing Wikipedia as a source raises concerns about its facts. What should have been a persuasive, detailed research document compiled by a verified government expert is, well, unproven.
Instead, it reads like a foregone conclusion. In its summary, the report states definitively that low-level flights would not have any environmental, economic, social, or cultural impact on Western Maine, and that’s that.
The Guard must do more to convince residents its plans would not have a significant impact. In fact, it’s arguable the burden of proof on the Guard is greater today than it was when opening the Condor area to low-level flights was dusted off in 2007.
The report cites the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as an inspiration for lowering the flight ceiling, so as to better train pilots on low-level interception of civilian aircraft.
Yet, since the eighth anniversary of these attacks is approaching, does this rationale remain valid? Has this training really been unavailable for pilots since 2001?
Technology, too, has progressed to where American air superiority is now measured by the skill of our drones rather than the scream of our jets. Rejection of funding for the state-of-the-art F-22 fighter by Congress earlier this year is indicative of this subtle evolution.
Make no mistake: We want our fighting men and women to have the best training possible. But the governor is right — more work needs to be done.
The Guard’s report was a weak effort; it must offer a better case for why a change in airspace is still necessary.