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DOWNWINDERS' LEADER ATTACKS ASSESSMENT ON TRAINING CENTER

An environmental assessment of a proposal for a permanent air-combat training center at Dugway Proving Ground has drawn fire from a state committee and the Downwinders military watchdog group.

"Very little information of any type is provided in this EA (environmental assessment)," con-cluded the state Resource Development Coordinating Committee."This particular EA is one of the shabbiest, most superficial and cursory stick-it-in-the-file, rubber-stamp documents we have seen in 15 years of watchdogging military developments in the region," Downwinders leader Steve Erickson wrote Dugway's commander.

Erickson said the proposal "fuels our long-held suspicion that the Air Force is continuing to pursue the once-killed `electronic battlefield' in western Utah by piecemealing toward that capability while no one is looking."

The proposal would expand facilities of the Air Force's 99th Electronic Combat Range Group, Detachment 3 - an air-combat training center operating on the Army installation.

The combat range 20 miles west of Dugway's headquarters simulates enemy threats to American air crews using computers, threat-emitting sensors and radar.

Detachment 3 personnel run the ground operation and score the aircrews on how well they responded to the simulated threat.

It started in 1991 as a temporary activity, with portable toilets, trucked-in water, prefabricated buildings and trailer vans. Later, radar sites were built, requiring access roads and commercial power for a projected 10 years of use.

Now the Air Force wants to make the operation permanent, with a well, a sewer line and other facilities.

The environmental assessment said the expanded range would be part of the Strategic Training Range Complex-Strategic Training Center being developed to provide greater use of airspace and a more realistic environment for air combat crews.

There is little potential for environmental impact because construction would occur on land already in use, the assessment said.

The unit's work force could include up to 90 staff members.

It is not known whether expansion would result in more air traffic over the range.

That's one of the state's problems, according to the state committee. Others include the study's failure to explore site alternatives.

The state also questioned whether the Dugway expansion is part of the proposed Western Training Complex envisioned by former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin Powell.

If so, the expansion should be covered by a more thorough Environmental Impact Statement, said the report signed by state planning coordinator Brad Barber.

Dugway spokeswoman Melynda Petrie called Detachment 3 "completely separate."