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Environmental group objects to Fla. military training plan

Dec. 11, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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PENSACOLA, FLA. — A leading Florida environmental group on Wednesday officially objected to plans for expanding military training exercises on Panhandle land that includes two state forests.

Audubon Florida released a statement against the proposal, which calls for training involving helicopters, munitions and mobile transmitters in the Blackwater River State Forest and the Tate’s Hell State Forest.

The government is preparing an environmental impact statement that will assess the proposal.

“Our review has convinced us that elements of the current proposals of the U.S. Air Force for military exercises in these two state forest units are far reaching, expansive, and overly intrusive in the natural environment of both state forests,” Audubon representatives state in the letter opposing the expanded training.

The environmental group said aircraft, motorized vehicles and electronic equipment could disrupt wildlife and vegetation within the Blackwater River State Forest and the Tate’s Hell State Forest. Audubon Florida said it is especially concerned about the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which lives in the region.

“We appreciate the input from Audubon Florida and look forward to conducting thorough analysis of their specific concerns in the Environmental Impact Statement,” Mike Spaits a spokesman for Eglin Air Force Base, said in a statement released Wednesday.

In a document explaining the proposal, military leaders said they hope to have a decision on the expanding training sometime this summer.

The Air Force said its environmental impact assessment would follow the National Environmental Policy Act and that the training would be nonhazardous.

The plan calls for the placement of 12 temporary and mobile training radar emitters in the two state forests. The emitters transmit radio signals that track aircraft and simulate enemy threats, the Air Force said.

The plan also includes helicopter landing zones, aircraft hoist and other operations over water in the two forests and military exercises involving training munitions, pyrotechnics, paintballs and smoke grenades.

Blackwater River State Forest is located in the far north Panhandle south of the Alabama line. Tate’s Hell is east of the town of Apalachicola in Florida’s Big Bend Region. Both forests are in remote areas and near existing military bases.

In its statement objecting to the training, Audubon asks that training be prohibited in the most environmentally sensitive areas of the forests, that vehicles be restricted to existing roads and that emitter placement be allowed only on previously cleared land. Audubon also asks that the Air Force limit the length of its training to ensure the military use does not conflict with public use of the land.

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