Top gun seeks more of the high desert

  Two years ago, a remarkable coalition formed in rural central Nevada to halt the spread of Navy war games on public lands. Low-flying jets and the military's hunger for land withdrawals spurred the Sierra Club, the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, People for the USA, and almost every level of government - from local land-use boards to the governor's office - to support a Bureau of Land Management plan that would have contained all future electronic warfare installations in one area, the 400,000-acre Dixie Valley.

This August, however, the national BLM angered just about everyone on the high desert when it opened the door for "threat emitters' to be installed outside the Dixie Valley. Threat emitters are electronic devices that simulate missiles for training jets to dodge.

"We went through everything right ... everyone agreed," says Ray Salisbury, a Navy veteran who chairs the Lander County public-lands advisory committee. "Then somebody in Washington changed things, just like that."

John Singlaub, a BLM manager in Carson City, Nev., understands this sense of betrayal. He cobbled together the 1996 agreement restricting the Navy, only to be overridden this summer by his superiors in Washington. This is just another example of the military treating Nevada like an occupied country, he says, applying pressure to get what it wants without seriously considering local sentiment.

BLM spokeswoman Jo Simpson contends the upcoming environmental review necessary for the threat-emitter sites will allow the public "to address comprehensively the Navy's training requirements that affect public lands in Nevada."

Grace Potorti, executive director for the Rural Alliance for Military Accountability (HCN, 4/13/98), finds little comfort in the BLM's assurances that environmental review will equal citizen concerns being taken seriously. She vows to fight this one to the end. "They say it ain't over until the fat lady sings," says Potorti, "and I don't sing."

* Stanley Yung

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