- Associated Press - Monday, July 20, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - The U.S. Army has proposed using an off-base mountain training area over the North Cascades in Washington state for helicopter pilots to practice flyovers and landings.

Aviation officials at Joint Base Lewis-McChord want to create seven remote landing zones on U.S. Forest Service land so pilots flying at high altitudes can practice takeoffs and landings, The Seattle Times reported (https://is.gd/BAkA8Q ) Monday.

Army officials say it would help pilots prepare to operate in mountainous conditions such as Afghanistan and to train closer to the base south of Tacoma to save fuel, time and other costs. The base currently does high-altitude training in Colorado.

The mountain training area would extend over an aerial space in north-central Washington, largely east of the Cascades from around Leavenworth to the Canadian border.

The new proposal would also include three low-elevation training areas in southwest Washington.

The Army is seeking comments as it prepares a draft environmental assessment by Sept. 1.

The proposal has drawn scrutiny from the watchdog group, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.

“Our national forests are not some annex of the Defense Department,” Andy Stahl, the group’s executive director, told the Times. “We think that except for a few sites, they should be off-limits to the military.”

The Forest Service will conduct its own review once the Army applies for a special-use permit for the landing zones.

The Army told the Times helicopter units would make up to 75 practice landings in a given month. The sites would be available for use day and night throughout the year.

Adjustments to the proposed landing zones could occur and a land-use agreement would have to be reached with the Forest Service, the Army said.

The landing sites would each cover between 1 acre to 6.5 acres, including one just inside the boundary of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and another within a mile of Pacific Crest Trail in north-central Washington.

Glen Sachet, a spokesman for the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest region, said, “typically, helicopter landings are not allowed in wilderness.”

Sachet said the Army would have to show there are no areas outside the wilderness suitable for the training.

The Army says the sites are in open areas such as abandoned quarries, rocky peaks or open areas. They will not be used for refueling, live ordnance or to move troops or equipment on the ground, according to the Army.

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Online: JBLM https://www.lewis-mcchord.army.mil/publicworks/sites/envir/eia_HTA.aspx

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Information from: The Seattle Times, https://www.seattletimes.com

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