- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

PECOS, Texas — A group of southwest Texas farmers and ranchers is troubled because — they claim —the U.S. Air Force is endangering their animals, creating environmental hazards and scaring the populace as it stages practice bombing runs over remote areas of the state.
A recent lawsuit filed in El Paso by a group known as the Davis Mountains Trans-Pecos Heritage Association claims that while the Air Force has always assured residents of the area the training flights would have no significant impact, that has not been the case.
"The true impacts can be felt, seen, heard and smelled inside family homes," said Kaare Remme, chairman of the plaintiffs group.
"They will be sending thousands of heavy bombers flying over local properties and residences at speeds up to 630 miles an hour and as low as 300 feet," he said.
The Air Force claims there are far fewer than that — around 40 — and they make only six to 10 runs a day, usually only on weekdays.
The controversy is not new, and both sides concede it probably will not be solved quickly.
Sue Combs, the Texas agriculture commissioner, said she has invited officials from Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene to come to Austin today to discuss several issues prompted by the recent legal actions.
"I have had multiple requests over the last year from people who were concerned," said Mrs. Combs in a telephone conversation with The Washington Times.
She said she would visit with Air Force officials to address some of the claims, then would submit further questions, which the government could answer later.
Mrs. Combs said the Air Force was being "extremely accommodating."
Ray Ortega, mayor of Pecos, close to the military training run, said he was in favor of the Air Force exercises. "Its a win-win situation," he said yesterday. He said Pecos had suffered a bad economic downturn the past few years and a planned Air Force installation to monitor scoring on the bomber runs — 30 officers would be stationed at Pecos to man the site — would boost the local economy. "And those planes dont hurt anything," he said.
But Mr. Remme and his group say that is ridiculous, that the training exercises have always been a detriment to the area and stand to hurt landowners even more in then future.
Low-level flights, the suit claims, can keep cattle from reproducing, often stampede them into fences or other obstacles and could cause them to run off precious pounds.
Lt. Wes Wiser, spokesman for Dyess, said the corridor used by the B-1 and B-52 bombers is only 10 miles wide and intentionally veers around cities and towns.
Soon, said the Air Force spokesman, the military will build several electronic emitters — electronic dishes on 15-acre leased land — to better measure the training results and two manned scoring sites will be built in Pecos and Snyder to further refine the Air Forces training missions.
As for the oft-heard report that more and more bombers will be phased into the exercises in coming months, Lt. Wiser said this was false.
"In fact there will probably be less planes used," he said.
As for the claims by some ranchers that vibrations from the bomber runs have damaged foundations of some older homes, knocked glassware and pictures off the walls and destroyed windmills, Lt. Wiser said he had heard such claims but has seen no evidence.
"Ive been here since July 1999," he said, "and to my knowledge no one has ever filed a claim, a damage claim."
"Theyre claiming everything from harm to the tourist industry to the sterilization of their first-born," said Aubrey Mayes, an El Paso man who owns property in Brewster County, part of the involved area. "I wonder how they might feel if our fine Air Force is forced to enter heavy combat and their training is lacking because of such frenzied legal attacks," said Mr. Mayes. "They need to get a life."
Mrs. Combs, the agriculture commissioner, whose family has owned a ranch in Brewster County for more than 120 years, said todays meeting was just an "informational session. "I dont expect anything earth-shattering to happen," she said.

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