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Commissioners Briefed on Fort Carson Helicopter Training

A Fort Carson helicopter crew demonstrated landings and low level maneuvers for the media on October 1st in one of the proposed landing zones in the Garden Park area north of Canon City. The BLM is conducting a National Environmental Analysis to determine if Fort Carson can get permission to use 45 different landing zones on BLM public lands in Fremont and Teller Counties for training purposes over the next 10 years.

Fort Carson and Bureau of Land Management officials briefed the Fremont County Commissioners Tuesday on the US Army’s desire to reach a long term agreement with the BLM for helicopter training on public lands in Fremont and Teller Counties.   The BLM and Fort Carson hosted a public meeting on October 7th to share details about the High Altitude Mountain Environment Training (HAMET) program which is designed to provide pilots experience flying and landing helicopters in high elevation, mountainous terrain.   Army Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Niles told the Commissioners that the terrain found in Fremont and Teller Counties is similar to conditions that helicopter pilots face in Afghanistan.

BLM Royal Gorge Field Office Manager Keith Berger said Fort Carson has been using BLM public lands in the area on an in-frequent casual basis since 2010 but now the Army wants a more formal permanent use.    Berger said the BLM is now conducting an environmental assessment that would pave the way for a 10 year right of way agreement.  The BLM is analyzing Fort Carson’s Plan of Development through an open public process.   Berger said the BLM wants to make sure county officials are involved in the planning process.

Niles and Berger shared maps with the Board of Commissioners showing 45 proposed landing sites on BLM lands in the two counties.   In Fremont County the landing zones are primarily in the Garden Park area north of Cañon City and in the area northwest of Parkdale near Highway 9.   Commissioner Ed Norden asked about the risk of pilots mistakenly landing on private property.   Niles said with the GPS guidance systems on today’s Army helicopters it’s almost impossible to make an error in landing zones.  He added that the helicopter training involves both day and night operations.

Berger said so far any concerns expressed to the BLM from neighbors in those areas deal with the impacts associated with noise.  He said the BLM’s environmental review would address a variety of issues including potential impacts to wildlife, cattle grazing, hunting, fishing, hiking, climbing, and other recreational issues.

Among initial concerns voiced by the Board of Commissioners is that the BLM perhaps consider a public comment period longer than 30 days, to be vigilant in advising the public through news releases, and to keep the Board of Commissioners apprised of the status of the BLM’s review.

Berger said the BLM is currently in a public scoping period until November 1st which would be followed by a 30 day public comment period.   Berger said he anticipates a final decision on Fort Carson’s request by the spring of 2015.