Gov. Cecil Andrus and Idaho's two congressmen have come to the defense of residents who say the Air Force is ignoring them in its push to create a gigantic supersonic bombing range in the high desert.
"The people of Idaho don't want to be at war with the Air Force," Andrus said in a telephone interview Thursday. "But we are not going to sit idly by and sacrifice our heritage when they haven't justified the need."The Air Force conducted five public hearings this week in southwestern Idaho towns on the first tier of an environmental impact statement for the Saylor Creek bombing range. The hearings concluded Friday in Mountain Home.
The military initially proposed inflating the range 15 times its size to some 1.5 million acres but has dropped most specifics in the first half of the impact study. The Air Force plans to move 94 F-4 jets from George Air Force Base in California to the Mountain Home Air Force Base.
"It would certainly help all of us if they could be more precise in what they need from the range for the next 10 years," Democratic Rep. Richard Stallings said.
David Fish, spokesman for Rep. Larry Craig, said the Idaho Republican believes the plan is too ambitious.
Andrus and Stallings also asked for the facts about the future of F-4 Phantom aircraft.
Attorneys for the Natural Resources Defense Council allege the aging planes will be phased out by 1993 before the range could be approved.
Scoping hearings held last fall drew foes from the ranks of sportsmen, conservationists and ranchers. But many Mountain Home residents have come out in support of the expansion as necessary to the survival of their town.
Idaho Republican Sens. Jim McClure and Steve Symms both encouraged citizens to speak their minds on the impact statement but refrained from taking any positions.
"McClure's position is still the same," said his spokesman, H.D. Palmer. "He sees his role to try to make sure everyone's involved in the decisionmaking process.
"The final arbiter will be Congress. And one of the yardsticks for McClure's decision will be the cooperation between the user groups and the Air Force," Palmer said. "If there's no cooperation from one side or the other, then that will be reflected in the final decision."
All of the state's political leaders said they declined to testify at this week's hearings to reserve the most time for other Idahoans to speak. Congress ultimately will have to rule on whether to transfer more than a million acres of federal land to Air Force control.
Andrus said private conversations with two high-ranking Air Force generals indicate they are more willing to compromise than the "Air Force bureaucracy" whose plans are embodied in the draft statement.
"The generals have indicated that they are willing to work with the local people, but that's not the impression I get from the Air Force bureaucracy," he said.