AIR COMBAT COMMAND REFUSES PUBLIC HEARINGS FOR THE UPCOMING ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT OF OPERATION SNOWBIRD
In their letter of May 9, 2012, the Air Combat Command agrees to Tucson Forward’s request for an extension of the comment period, but they will not hold public meetings where the changes to the original proposal can be explained.
The Operation Snowbird EA can result in either a “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) or result in a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Many feel that the process has been structured to result in a FONSI and does not call attention to the fact that these aircraft have and are being flown over urban Tucson in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Operation Snowbird (OSB), an Arizona National Guard program that operates out of Davis-Monthan AFB, does year-round combat training for foreign and sister-service pilots. The aircraft in the OSB program which fly over the City of Tucson quietly grew to include F-15s, F-18s, Tornados, and Harriers without any kind of environmental study of the effect it would have on the community below. After extensive community pressure, the Air Force agreed to do an Environmental Assessment. Many contend that the OSB program is operating in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Now the Air Force wants to expand this program with a proposal which would include F-22s which have recently been in the news due to safety concerns.
At the beginning of April, the Air Combat Command announced that they would be altering the operations and the baseline in their original proposal. Many questioned the use of the 2002 CSAR EA as the baseline for the OSB EA. The Air Force claimed that the Operation Snowbird aircraft had been analyzed in the CSAR EA and yet there was no mention of OSB aircraft in this document. Tucson Forward requested an extension of the comment period and a public hearing due to these unexplained changes to their proposal. There will be no public hearings. It is clear that due the history of non-disclosure and the lack of public vetting, that a full EIS needs to be done.