WSMR, county study land use

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The Socorro County Commission heard from White Sands Missile Range about the SunZia transmission line, as well as its southern New Mexico joint land use study, during the commission’s regular meeting May 14.

Dan Hicks, WSMR chief of staff, shared a PowerPoint presentation with commissioners that included information about WSMR, the JLUS and SunZia. He said the Department of Defense has done about 100 joint land use studies around the country so far, but the one for southern New Mexico is the largest JLUS the DOD has undertaken. It includes WSMR, Holloman Air Force Base and Fort Bliss; the New Mexico counties of Socorro, Lincoln, Otero, Sierra and Doña Ana; and El Paso County, Texas.

The JLUS seeks to create a long-term planning partnership among the bases, local and state governments, and the public to balance the needs of the military with preservation of quality of life in local communities.

County manager Delilah Walsh, who is part of the JLUS technical committee, said a JLUS public meeting will be held locally June 11. A news release issued by Walsh on May 23 states the meeting is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. June 11 at the San Antonio Elementary School.

Walsh said although Socorro County is not impacted by the bases as much as other counties like Otero and Doña Ana, there is some impact here and the JLUS meeting is a good opportunity to get public input.

Hicks discussed activities at WSMR, such as the network integration evaluation held twice a year at the installation. The six-week NIE events evaluate components for inclusion with the Army’s tactical data network, its information superhighway for the battlefield.

Hicks said the Army can do things at WSMR it can’t in other places due to the base’s large size and controlled airspace. He noted WSMR accounts for about 18 percent of the Army’s land in the U.S., and Fort Bliss next door accounts for another 7 percent. The airspace over WSMR is the only airspace in the U.S. controlled by the Department of Defense, other than the space right over the White House. All other U.S. airspace is controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration. This WSMR airspace allows for more types of unique testing.

In addition, Hicks said WSMR has a 40-by-40-mile evacuation area just north of the base where the Army has an agreement with 103 ranchers. WSMR can evacuate them when it needs to provide a bigger buffer zone for projects like missile testing. Hicks said WSMR has an estimated $2.3 million daily economic impact on surrounding communities.

Hicks said the Army is working to employ renewable energy at its bases, and talked about the SunZia power line.

“Renewable energy is key to our success in our future,” Hicks said. “The DOD, the military, is just a fuel hog. We’re the biggest user of fossil fuels in the United States government.”

He said the DOD has implemented good mandates to reduce its carbon footprint and use more renewable energy. Military bases are taking steps toward becoming net zero facilities, meaning they will produce more energy than they use. The DOD means to bring down installation costs, as well as to make operations in theater more efficient.

“What we want to do is try and limit these big logistics trails that we see in Afghanistan and Iraq, where there’s convoys of fuel just to be able to support these brigades and the missions that they do,” Hicks said. “The more we can limit the logistics footprint … the better off we’ll be.”

Hicks said WSMR is active in the process; it has the world’s largest solar array — at least until the even larger solar array being built at Fort Bliss becomes operational. He said the bases need transmission lines for their solar power, and hopefully the projects will reduce local utility rates as well as power more bases.

Hicks noted there are some “bad actors out there in the world” and the military has to train so it can defend against threats. WSMR’s size, airspace and geographical features make it “a national treasure” for military training and testing that can’t be done anywhere else.

Hicks said power lines running across WSMR’s testing areas would inhibit some testing, such as tests for intercepting low-flying missiles. He said the power lines pose three concerns to WSMR operations: low flyers, launch operations and electromagnetic interference. The DOD wants SunZia to build its transmission line without ruining the testing and training environment at WSMR.

Hicks said the DOD is now working with the U.S. Department of the Interior to find a more northern alternative for the power line, one that goes along some existing utility right-of-ways along U.S. Highway 60 closer to Belen rather than through WSMR’s restricted airspace or the 40-by-40-mile extension area.

“This area, as you all well know, is very pristine,” Hicks said.

Hicks said the Bureau of Land Management, in its last resource management plan issued in November 2010, indicated that utility corridors through that pristine area is not a viable option for many reasons.

Hicks said negotiations are ongoing at a high level between the DOD and Department of Interior regarding SunZia’s route.

“This project is important to the state, it’s important to the administration. It was pulled up amongst — there was 40, I think, national infrastructure projects,” Hicks said. “Seven of them were pulled up for fast-tracking by the administration.”

District 4 Commissioner Daniel Monette said he liked the northern alternative for the transmission line.

“Rather than going through our valley,” Monette said.

Hicks said WSMR is hearing the same from other agencies.

Walsh noted the SunZia transmission line will not provide any economic benefit to Socorro County, other than possibly during the construction phase.

“Whereas WSMR and the (wildlife) refuges have real economic impact to our county,” Walsh said.

Monette noted the WSMR staff just came to the county meeting as a courtesy, but Washington will ultimately decide where the SunZia line will run. Walsh said they started with about 24 possible routes through New Mexico for the power line, but now federal agencies are narrowing that down to a few choices.

 

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