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Draft EIS Comment Submitted – Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, Colorado

Peaceful Skies Coalition of New Mexico and Colorado

December 15, 2014

VIA E-MAIL

US Army Environmental Command and Commander Fort Carson

usarmy.carson.imcom-central.list.dpw-ed-nepa@mail.mil.

Re:      Comments on the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) Training and Operations Draft Environmental Impact Statement

To Whom It May Concern:

Peaceful Skies Coalition is submitting comments on the PCMS Training and Operations Draft Environmental Impact Statement (PCMSTODEIS) as required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. § 4331, et seq., (NEPA) for the United States Army Environmental Command and Fort Carson Army Base.

These comments are submitted during the requisite comment period by the Peaceful Skies Coalition (Commenters). The Commenters request that Peaceful Skies Coalition members Carol Miller and Clifton Bain be placed on the recipient list to receive notice of any developments in the NEPA review process for this proposal and any related documents issued by the US Army Environmental Command and/or Fort Carson in the course of the NEPA review of this proposal. The Commenters further request that these comments be included as part of the administrative record in order to establish standing as a stakeholder organization.

On May 30, 2014 Peaceful Skies Coalition sent by email a request to usarmy.carson.imcom-central.list.dpw-ed-nepal@mail.mil which stated:

This is a formal request that Carol Miller, as a representative of the Peaceful Skies Coalition be placed on the recipient list to receive notice of any developments in the DOD/DOA NEPA action for the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. This request includes any related notices and documents issued by the DOD/DOA in the course of the preparation of an EIS for the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in Colorado.

Despite this request submitted in writing, no further information was provided to the Peaceful Skies Coalition or its designated representative. This is a violation of the stakeholder process.

Misuse of Stakeholder Outreach

The Stakeholder Outreach section of this document is nonresponsive. The DEIS states on page S-4 (pdf p. 8):

S.9.1 “Comments received primarily asked the Army to consider closure of PCMS as an alternative. Other common concerns were the impact of increased training and training activities on sustainability of the land and on natural and cultural resources within and adjacent to PCMS.”

Instead of an analysis that recognized that the civilian majority wanted PCMS closed, public opinion carried zero weight with the predetermined decision of the Army. The affected community has documented that military activities on PCMS have caused an environmental disaster in need of significant restoration and remediation wherever possible. The Pentagon response was an absolute No! The decision was made that the public voice was not going to be allowed.

Geology and Soils

Table S-1 on page S-11 (page 15 pdf) finds “Significant” impacts on Geology and Soils. These are the only impacts determined to be significant by the DEIS contractor Potomac-Hudson Engineering, Inc. This finding is documentation that PCMS is a poor candidate for the types of training that are proposed. Much more detail on the actual proposed soil degradation is necessary.

The geology and soils of the short grass prairie have not recovered from the Santa Fe Trail migration nearly two hundred years ago. It is obvious that the PCMS proposed vehicle traffic will scar the land for generations.

It is doubtful that remediation and restoration are even possible or will have time to work before desertification occurs in the most ecologically fragile areas. The public has called for protection of this bioregion. The DEIS includes a look back at 20 years of operations at PCMS. “Over the entire study period (1984 to present), there is a general negative trend in cover quality in the heaviest-used areas.” The study showed that with remediation, even when there is regrowth, densities are reduced and invasive species are introduced. Page 4-4 (page 312 pdf).

Planning for PCMS Closure Must be Included as an Alternative

PCMS will ultimately close, so planning for this eventuality must be a part of all Fort Carson planning. The US can’t afford another Dust Bowl. The short grass prairie of southeastern Colorado was a big part of the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The region is suffering from a severe drought. This area must be restored and protected not further destroyed for the practice of more war. Public concerns need to be addressed because the public will not be silent in the face of ongoing environmental harm.

Proposed Action Alternative 1.B Increases Likelihood of Environmental Damage

The DOA preferred alternative expands current activities and adds a number of new, environmentally damaging operations to PCMS. For example, the addition of Demolitions Training will make restoration and remediation more difficult. Proposed new activities include the following:

  • “Conduct demolitions training in eight proposed designated explosive breach sites within Training Areas 7 and 10.”
  • “Explosive proposed to be used include: C4 (explosive), trinitrotoluene (TNT), plastic explosives, 1 detonating cord, Bangalore 2 torpedoes, blasting caps, timed fuses, and igniters.”

Despite the best efforts to clean up, there are always problems with unexploded ordnance (UXO) during and long after operations cease. If environmental degradation continues at PCMS, especially while there is an extreme drought, newly added hazards like those proposed in Alternative 1.B would complicate, hamper, or even prevent emergency management efforts in responding to wildfire or crashes, for example.

Adjacent and Encircling DOD Activities Ignored in the DEIS

Peaceful Skies Coalition has identified a large number, but not all, of Army and other branches of the military that are simultaneously conducting Scoping, Public Hearings, Draft and Final EAs and Draft and Final EISs. These activities encircle and/or directly impact PCMS. Comprehensive and accurate regional information can not be ignored. PCMS itself has a number of NEPA procedures underway now, with each in isolation of the other in violation of longstanding decisions in Federal court. The Federal courts have ruled that government NEPA activities “cannot isolate a proposed project, viewing it in a vacuum.” 40 C.F.R. § 1508.25(a)

Fort Carson currently lists ten 2014 projects at http://www.carson.army.mil/DPW/nepa.html. This DEIS is for one part of a project, which in fact has numerous parts. Fort Carson has proposals for a large increase in activity on multiple locations in Colorado. Fort Carson is attempting to isolate all of those proposed projects from each other as well as from the large scale Bureau of Land Management High Altitude Mountain Environment Training (HAMET) also underway.

The HAMET proposes to permit Fort Carson to construct 45 helicopter landing zones, on about 240 acres of public land. These are to be built in a rare, pristine area with future noisy and disruptive flights in and out daily. The BLM must protect the land they are entrusted with and disallow the HAMET. Despite the magnitude of the proposed HAMET, it is not mentioned in the PCMSTODEIS.

Peaceful Skies Coalition formed originally to stop a Cannon airforce proposal to establish a large Low Altitude Training Area (LATA). Therefore the coalition is especially interested in the following comment about Cannon and Buckley ANG low altitude flights in this DEIS:

  • The PIC will contact the 27th Operations Support Squadron (OSS), Cannon Air Force

Base for de-confliction with possible low altitude tactical navigation operations.

  • The PIC will contact the 140th Operations Group (OG), Buckley Air National Guard Base (ANGB) for de-confliction with IR-409 and VR-1427.

There are concerns about increased restrictions on the airspace. “Request the FAA to reclassify a portion of the SUA that overlies PCMS (not to extend beyond the boundaries of PCMS) to Restricted Area (RA). The airspace reclassification is required to conduct integrated and realistic air and land training, aviation gunnery, and airborne laser target sighting system training.” Page S-3 and S-8 (page 7 and 12 pdf).

Bioregional Impacts Must be Addressed – No Silos

In order to comment on any specific part of this NEPA process, the public needs to be provided information about adjacent and other proposed national military projects. Without complete information there is no way to determine if a project is even needed.

Wildlife, water and air quality, avian flyways, to name just a few of the potentially affected natural systems, exist in very large bioregions which are not defined by lines drawn on a map around a single base.

COMMENTS:

Complying With NEPA

  1. Cumulative Impacts. Failure to consider cumulative impacts is one of the weakest parts of the document provided to the public. The PCMSTODEIS fails to take into account the recommendations of the public or established case law rulings on cumulative impacts.

The NEPA review process requires taking a hard look at the cumulative impacts of a proposed action. A cumulative impact is “the impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (Federal or non-Federal) or person undertakes such other actions. Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time.” 40 C.F.R. § 1508.7, cited on page 4.1 (pdf 309).

Establishing the proper geographic scope or boundary for a cumulative impacts analysis is extremely important because the proposed action will have direct, indirect, and “additive” effects on resources beyond the immediate area. Environmental analysis should: (1) determine the area and resources that will be affected by their proposed action (the “project impact zone”); (2) make a list of resources within that area or zone that could be affected by the proposed action; and (3) determine the geographic areas occupied by those resources outside the immediate area or project impact zone.

In most cases, the largest of these areas will be the appropriate area for the analysis of cumulative effects. By way of example, for resident or migratory wildlife, the appropriate geographic area for the cumulative impacts analysis will be the species habitat or breeding grounds, migration route, wintering areas, or total range of affected population units. See e.g., NRDC. v. Hodel, 865 F.2d 288, 297 (D.C. Cir. 1988).

Another important aspect of a cumulative impacts analysis is the assessment of other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable actions affecting the resources, ecosystems, and/or human communities of concern. According to the CEQ, the “most devastating environmental effects may result not from the direct effects of a particular action, but from the combination of individually minor effects of multiple actions over time.” Council on Environmental Quality, Considering Cumulative Effects Under the National Environmental Policy Act 1 (January 1997) available at http://ceq.hss.doe.gov/nepa/ccenepa/ccenepa.htm (last visited November 2, 2011). The requirement to consider cumulative impacts, therefore, is designed to avoid the “combination of individually minor” effects situation – to avoid the “tyranny of small decisions” or death by a thousand cuts scenario. See e.g., Grand Canyon Trust v. FAA, 290 F.3d 339, 346 (D.C. Cir. 2002).

As the D.C. Circuit Court noted, federal agencies must “give a realistic evaluation of the total impacts [of the action] and cannot isolate a proposed project, viewing it in a vacuum.” Grand Canyon Trust, 290 F.3d at 342. Even “a slight increase in adverse conditions . . . may sometimes threaten harm that is significant. One more factory . . . may represent the straw that breaks the back of the environmental camel.” Id. at 343 (quoting Hanly v. Kleindienst, 471 F.2d 823 (2d Cir. 1972)).

Thus, the DEIS must examine the cumulative effects of the proposed PCMSTO together with all other Department of Defense bases, training areas and operations in Colorado, New Mexico, and at least the rest of the 48 contiguous states. As explained below, this comprehensive analysis is required by NEPA and mandates the preparation of a programmatic EIS that addresses the scale and scope of base and training expansions. This DEIS failed to do that.

  1. Alternatives. Under NEPA, federal agencies must “study, develop, and describe appropriate alternatives to recommended courses of action in any proposal which involves unresolved conflicts concerning alternative uses of available resources.” 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(E); see also 40 C.F.R. § 1508.9(b). The discussion of reasonable alternatives section is the “heart” of any environmental analysis under NEPA. 40 C.F.R. § 1502.14. In order to comply with this mandate, this DEIS should be withdrawn and the Stakeholder request for closure be analyzed as one of the alternatives in any further actions. If the “purpose and need” of the action is too narrowly defined, then the range of alternatives considered will likewise be too narrow in scope.
  1. Meaningful Public Comment. The goal of the NEPA review process is to “provide full and fair discussion of significant environmental impacts [of a proposed action]” and to “inform decision makers and the public of the reasonable alternatives which would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the human environment.” 40 C.F.R. §1502.1. With this mandate in mind, and in order to enable meaningful public comment, the DEIS should study the base closure as one of the alternatives. As the Commenter has previously stated, the DEIS is invalidated by its failure to consider the Public Comments.
  1. The Commenters therefore urge withdrawal of the Draft EIS and instead initiate a Continent-wide EIS for all US Department of Defense (DOD) land and airspace use and training, whether manned or unmanned, by any and all branches of the military. This is pursuant to the CEQ’s NEPA regulations, actions that: (1) are closely related, i.e., are interdependent parts of a larger action and depend on the larger action for their justification; or (2) are cumulative actions, which when viewed with other proposed actions have cumulatively significant impacts; or (3) are similar actions that have similarities that provide a basis for evaluating their environmental consequences together, such as common timing and geography, need to be considered in one EIS. See 40 C.F.R. § 1508.25. There are a number of individual NEPA activities, or operations, throughout the western United States, and indeed the entire country, that should be considered in one, single programmatic or comprehensive EIS to establish once and for all a national, DOD-wide baseline.

These comments are submitted on behalf of the Peaceful Skies Coalition. A primary mission of the Peaceful Skies Coalition is to participate in this and other important decisions affecting military activities on military, public and private resources in New Mexico and Colorado.

We hope you find these comments to be helpful, informative, and useful in your efforts to comply with the NEPA and other substantive statutes. If you have any questions or comments, or wish to discuss the issues raised in this comment on the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) Training and Operations Draft Environmental Impact Statement in greater detail, please do not hesitate to contact the Peaceful Skies Coalition representatives listed below.

Sincerely,

Carol Miller

On Behalf of Peaceful Skies Coalition, P.O. Box 322, Arroyo Hondo, NM 87513