In response to a proposal from the Maryland Air National Guard (ANG) to conduct low-altitude military training over a significant portion of the Pennsylvania Wilds, the non-profit that promotes the 13-county region as an outdoor recreation destination as a way to support rural economies is asking the ANG to conduct public meetings in the affected counties.
The non-profit, the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship (PA Wilds Center), has also invited other organizations to sign on to the request.
“There is concern that the ANG has not done adequate outreach to educate the public on the proposed Duke Low MOA and the potential impacts. There is also concern that the issuance of a ‘Finding of No Significant Impact’ would be premature,” said Ta Enos, PA Wilds Center chief executive officer.
“We are asking organizations to sign on to this letter in support of the Air National Guard hosting public meetings in each of the impacted counties — Cameron, Clinton, Elk, McKean, Potter and Tioga — to provide informative presentations and offer opportunity for input and questions.”
The ANG seeks to control airspace by establishing the Duke Low Military Operating Area (MOA). This MOA proposal would permit training units to fly as low as 100 feet above ground level (AGL) for up to 170 days per year. Training is now limited to 8,000 feet above mean sea level (MSL) — or 6,000-7,000 AGL.
The ANG released the Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) and has issued a DRAFT Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).
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.
“This is not a one-time airshow,” Enos says. “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.
“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.”
The public comment period for the Draft Environmental Assessment is open until Dec. 15.
“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 says.
“We encourage others to do the same and to get your comments in by Dec. 15. I know some people fear that by speaking up they will be seen as anti-military.
“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.”
In addition to submitting its comments asking for a more robust Environmental Impact Statement, the PA Wilds Center is also coordinating the sign-on letter requesting public meetings.
“The Draft EA raises questions that are not answered in the document and relies heavily on military jargon and technical terms that are no doubt foreign to most residents,” Enos says.
“Rural PA deserves a more transparent process. People are asking us, will they be flying low over this area or that area and the truth is – we don’t know. It would help to have in-person meetings so the public can ask questions and hear from the Air National Guard directly.
“Given the size of the region, we think it is important to hold multiple meetings and to extend the public comment period to accommodate these meetings.”
Enos said close to two dozen organizations have already signed on to the letter requesting public meetings, including boroughs, townships, county commissioners, Heritage Areas, economic development organizations, conservation and wildlife organizations, watershed groups, visitor bureaus, small businesses and others.
To read or sign the letter requesting public meetings, visit the online form by November 19 at https://bit.ly/pa-wilds-low-moa-letter.
The ANG’s Draft EA can be viewed at: www.175wg.ang.af.mil/Duke-MOA-Low/. The public comment period closes Dec. 15.