Montana Lawmakers Concerned Over Range-Expansion Plan

The Air Force’s planned expansion of the Powder River Training Complex would hinder economic development and threaten safety in parts of Montana, warned the state’s congressional delegation. “We remain extremely troubled” about the proposal, wrote Sen. Jon Tester (D), Sen. John Walsh (D), and Rep. Steve Daines (R) in a Dec. 12 letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Federal Aviation Administration boss Michael Huerta. Among their concerns, instituting “a permanent” military operation area for periodic low-altitude bomber training in a part of Montana designated Powder River 3 Low would “deter general aviation where it is critical to economic development,” asserted the lawmakers. The expansion could also disrupt farmers’ crop spraying and limit energy companies’ ability to use airplanes to inspect pipelines in the Bakken oil region, states the missive. The training complex extends across sections of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. The Air Force wants to quadruple the complex’s airspace to enable B-1 and B-52 aircrews to train more realistically. The Air Force issued the environmental impact statement on the changes on Nov. 28; the service has to allow 30 days for public review before issuing the record of decision on whether to proceed with the expansion.