Air Force lands a deal

  Environmentalists fighting the expansion of a U.S. Air Force training range in southern Idaho lost a round. At issue was a 961-acre tract of grazing land that the U.S. Air Force says it needs for its 12,000-acre Juniper Butte training area (HCN, 4/13/98).

Favoring the military, Idaho's Land Board turned down a $5,000 bid from the Owyhee Canyonlands Coalition while unanimously accepting a $10 bid from the Air Force. The Air Force will also pay the state $213,000 in lease fees over the 25-year duration of the lease.

The Air Force plans to begin work on the $40 million training-range project in April.

Supporters of the range, which will be equipped with emitter stations that simulate enemy radar, say its development is linked to the future of the nearby Mountain Home Air Force Base, whose 10,000 workers pump more than $105 million into the Idaho economy. Without the radar range, the Air Force says the base might not survive the next round of congressionally ordered closures.

"It's a tremendous plus for keeping the Air Force in Idaho," says Col. Billy Richey.

Environmentalists don't believe it. "It's a scare tactic," says Roger Singer of the Sierra Club in Boise.

Singer says the coalition's last chance now to stop the project may lie in the courts: It recently filed two lawsuits challenging the Air Force environmental impact statement, which await further hearing.

*Rocky Barker
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