Friday, October 2, 2020

High Intensity, Multi-Day, Air-Land Military Training Coming to the Park

Back in June something occurred with potentially great significance for the Adirondack Park that flew below the proverbial radar. That month, a letter was mailed from the U.S. Army at Ft. Drum to selected agencies notifying them that “Fort Drum is initiating agency coordination for a new proposed action within the existing nine county Local Flying Area surrounding Fort Drum’s Installation Restricted Airspace area.”

That nine county Local Flying Area includes large portions of the Adirondack Park.

Interestingly, the Army’s letter and lengthy environmental assessment document never mentions the existence or the significance of the Adirondack Park, or of the Forest Preserve, or of state constitutional protection under Article 14.

The letter from the Army continued: “The proposed action includes conducting up to six high-intensity, multiday training events per year at off-installation locations to replicate multi-domain battle. These training events would serve to integrate air and/or ground operations, and sustainment activities by simulating real-world distances and threats, challenging logistical supply lines and mission command systems over distances beyond the geographic boundaries of Fort Drum, as well as expanding logistical routes via air and ground to simulate a large-scale battlefield.”

“Attached is the Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) and Draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) that analyzes and evaluates the potential environmental impacts of increasing mission and training activities at Fort Drum Army Installation and within the Local Flying Area (LFA) of Fort Drum. Environmental consequences were analyzed for two action alternatives; conducting high-intensity, multi-day training events to replicate multi-domain battle, either two or six times per year, as well as the No Action Alternative. This PEA describes the application of criteria provided by Fort Drum to select specific sites for the proposed training events…The site specific NEPA review will be tiered from the PEA and will be consistent with this document, incorporating by reference where appropriate.”

The letter concludes: “Your assistance in providing information is greatly appreciated. Please provide written comments by close of the public comment period to Ms. Cait Schadock, NEPA Coordinator, Directorate of Public Works, 4896 Jones St, Fort Drum, NY 13602-5097, or send via email to [email protected] If nothing is heard by this date, it will be taken as agreement with this action…. Public Comments will be received from July 6, 2020 to August 5, 2020.”

Adirondack Wild would not have received the army’s letter because we were not among the army’s “coordination and consultation” list. Neither, I noted, was the Adirondack Park Agency, the sole agency with planning responsibility for the entire Adirondack Park. The APA did receive it eventually, perhaps from its sister agency DEC, which was included in the army’s list. Regardless, we learned about it through the proverbial grapevine and submitted a letter by the army’s August deadline, as did other organizations.  In a very timely and presumably standardized email response, the army acknowledged that our letter had been received and would be considered. That was appreciated.

Yet, here is a proposed action involving air and land combat forces who will be devoting weeks at a time intensively training with encampments inside the Adirondack Park, perhaps on private land, perhaps near private farms, forests or municipalities, perhaps inside Wilderness, Primitive, Canoe or Wild Forest areas of the public’s “forever wild” Forest Preserve, that the army promises will have no significant impact of any kind whatsoever.

There are certainly many impacts – cultural, environmental, health and safety – that can be envisioned from the intense training proposed. Given President Trump’s executive orders earlier this year that federal agencies can effectively ignore the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, perhaps I should be grateful that the army has observed NEPA and performed an environmental assessment of any kind and to any standard. But what the army has done so far in its environmental assessment has been in my opinion superficial, unsubstantiated and conclusory.

The army concludes that because the training operations are temporary, any impacts to land use and to human communities would be short-term in nature. Yet, the army is proposing up to six, 3 week-long exercises during a year. That is 126 days out of the year – year after year. That is not a reasonable person’s definition of temporary.

Here are some additional concerns:

  • In the past, New York’s Air National Guard has worked early and often with the Adirondack Park Agency and with other state and private organizations in a shared, transparent discussion about guidance of aerial military operating areas and training routes over regions of the Adirondack Park. That past, relatively successful experience was not replicated in the June Ft. Drum invitation of comment letter which seemed abrupt, curt, conclusory and which failed – at least initially – to reach or consult key agencies and constituencies of the Park. Hopefully those communication oversights have been corrected since August;
  • In its programmatic environmental assessment, or PEA, the army is proposing a tiered analysis whereby the scoping of issues and impacts and depth of analysis is broken down into discrete elements and actions. In New York law (State Environmental Quality Review Act) this is known as segmented review, whereby the overall extent and scope of an action is concealed while each detailed activity receives its own separate evaluation, out of context with or segmented from an overall scheme or plan. In this way, the army’s scope of activity and environmental assessment lacks comprehensive treatment. This would be a violation of State and Federal law;
  • The Army’s PEA fails to identify the Adirondack Forest Preserve, much less specify whether their enhanced training missions would impact designated Wilderness, Primitive, Canoe or Wild Forest areas. A full EIS is needed to identify specific areas of the Forest Preserve that could or would be preferentially selected for the enhanced training missions, and to avoid, minimize or mitigate actual or potential environmental impacts on the public’s wild lands involved;
  • The Army’s PEA must pay more attention to actual and potential noise impacts on human and natural communities of the Park, including the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Sound sensitivity and impacts from existing military operating areas and training routes vary tremendously across the Park. How will the enhanced training magnify or increase ambient aircraft and land motorized uses across the 9-county area, in both time and space? What are the cumulative impacts above and beyond the existing military operating areas and training routes? Only a full EIS might be able to answer such questions.

Stay tuned for the U.S. Army at Ft. Drum response to the multiple letters of concern and requests from State and private agencies for a full EIS.

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David Gibson

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve

During Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history.

Currently, Dave is managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.


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24 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Thanks David. If they will be using F-35s, I can attest from living in their inbound flight path to BTV for several months now – they are one LOUD airplane – possibly the loudest the Park has ever heard. I hope it will be mostly helicopters, in the maneuvers – not that they are quiet.

    But 126 days/year is certainly not inconsequential. It basically sounds like Ft. Drum has annexed the Park for its long-term training purposes.

    • Donald M. Thompson says:

      F-35 flyovers fairly regularly this summer in Lewis/Westport. Really loud.

    • Good Camp Owner says:

      Live in the very blanket of freedom these men and women provide and than question the manner and place they train to maintain your freedom….thank you providing written proof of your cowardliness

      • Jack says:

        I totally agree. I miss the A10’s…..

      • Boreas says:

        Is it freedom if we have no choice? The Adirondack Park wasn’t conceived for war maneuvers. Get a grip on your condescension.

      • Smitty says:

        First of all, you’re confusing the bravery of individual pilots with decisions made by top officials. And since when is it cowardice to question authority? I recently hiked French Louie trail in wilderness area and had to listen to loud fighter jets circling for several hours, which was rather annoying. Yet ADK trail crews in the same area are forbidden to use power tools less they disturb the quiet of the wilderness. Crazy.

      • Tom says:

        To the idiot commenter that obviously is unable to think of possible outcomes. The military is notorious for being messy, particularly when not held accountable. The fact that these “exercises” could be held pretty much anywhere is also troubling. I nominate holding their exercises at the good camp owners place – his comment sounds like that of a troll. Accountability is extremely important when we are talking about something with potentially large impacts like this, particularly in the park.

        • Good Camp Owner says:

          Tom please thank your wife Karen for composing your reply. If I was contacted or my cooperation is needed I will happily comply. This is NYS property and not aligned to your zip code, hence come one come all.

  2. Todd Eastman says:

    Stefanik must be proud of this travesty…🙄

  3. Lorraine Duvall Lorraine Duvall says:

    The flyovers in the High Peaks this summer we’re intense.

  4. David Raville says:

    While we should be grateful for the Army pulling the Watertown area out of the Great Depression we do not in turn owe them the (ab)use of our wild lands. Is there some sort of State equivalent to the 3rd Amendment? I know that many of the soldiers enjoy private recreational use of the park but the Army does not ascribe to a Leave No Trace policy per se.

  5. Sean Ellison says:

    Have they already commenced with increased activities at this point? Up in Potsdam we could hear the rumbling of the jets quite frequently. While I had noticed it occasionally in the past, it certainly seemed to occur much more frequently this spring and summer.

  6. Balian the Cat says:

    Where would the northcountry economy be without crime and war…

  7. Tim says:

    Noise pollution. Many, many folks love the Addirondack park for the peace and quiet it affords.

  8. Todd Eastman says:

    Why can’t they use the Bedlington Golf Club?

  9. Hiker Joe says:

    You’re going to start seeing and hearing more fighter and bomber traffic in the area. Fort Drum is one of only a handful of locations throughout the US to have this capability, which will see F-35s from Burlington in the Adirondacks and Fort Drum multiple times per week, and with air wings from throughout the US coming to the area to train. That said, the pilots NEED this training to ensure their survivability in future conflict.

    https://home.army.mil/drum/index.php/about/news/news-archives-september-2020/simulating-enemy-threat

  10. David Gibson says:

    The military, particularly Air National Guard, has been pretty good over the years working with Adirondack Park Agency and others to designate operating areas and to fly above the ceiling of 500 ft. The army in other parts of the U.S. operate with sensitivity to environmental protection and endangered and threatened species protection, for example in the southeastern U.S.. The army is a neighbor to the Adk Park. The army ought to work here just as constructively to the environment as their counterparts elsewhere, work with our APA and DEC and other stakeholders, diligently perform their environmental homework as per state and federal law, and carefully evaluate through an impact statement where the intensive training would take place and how and when it takes place so that the army avoids or minimizes large environmental impacts to the Park.

  11. Charlie says:

    ““The proposed action includes conducting up to six high-intensity, multiday training events per year at off-installation locations to replicate multi-domain battle.”

    Y’all heard the one….. ‘If you sit in a barber shop long enough you’re gonna get a haircut.’ We keep preparing for war we’re gonna have war!

  12. Charlie S says:

    Charlie S I stand corrected

  13. Charlie S says:

    “any impacts to land use and to human communities would be short-term in nature.”

    I thought of that whole mess of whales that recently beached themselves and died in Australia. The military is known for using sonar in the oceans, the home of the whales.

  14. mIke says:

    I was wondering what the heck was going on. The F-35s are incredibly loud. They rattle the windows in the house. You can’t hear yourself think at time if you are outdoors.

  15. Robert DiMarco says:

    We are a very sad species!

  16. Vanessa says:

    Guys, some of these threads, jeez o__o

    Just to get one quick thing out of the way: many soldiers have died for my freedom and I salute all of them! But they certainly did not die for us to use that freedom to be catty and troll each other online, especially not for legitimate questioning of authority. My grandpa escaped Italian fascism and fought with the Americans in the 40s BECAUSE he knew they were less authoritarian.

    Ok that’s taken care of. This seems a bit sketchy, yeah, but I feel like folks operating on the ground would provide a lot more potential environmental harm than air exercises. but I’m certainly no expert.

    I hope Ft Drum is able to communicate with state agencies more clearly. We shall stay tuned.

    Finally, war is evil and let’s hope America finds less and less occasion to be involved in war as time moves forward. That’s war that’s evil, for you commenters in the back, and not most people that engage in it.

    A very wide variety of topics to cover in a single comment.

  17. Jeanne says:

    Three week long exercises..126 days a year…year after year. Too much, too loud. I’ve been on Lake Lila and Little Tupper Lake with aircraft flying extremely low and extremely LOUD! Can’t imagine dealing with that on a regular basis I’d go deaf !!

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