Casey, Fetterman applaud scrapping of plan for flight training over Pennsylvania Wilds - TAI News
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Maryland Air National Guard A-10C aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by SMSgt Jim Foard)

The Air Force and the National Guard have dropped a plan to lower a flight training area for the Maryland Air National Guard located above North Central Pennsylvania communities to just 100 feet above ground level. Democratic U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman, who had pushed to stop the proposal, called the decision a huge victory for their constituents.

In 2019, the National Guard Bureau, the federal agency that oversees the National Guard, announced a plan to lower the Duke Military Operating Area, located over parts of Cameron, Clinton, Elk, McKean, and Potter Counties, from 8,000 feet above sea level to just 100 feet above ground level. The change would have allowed pilots from the Maryland Air National Guard to make low-altitude test flights over the Pennsylvania Wilds, a mostly rural and forested part of the state that’s also a designated tourist area, up to 170 days a year.

While Casey and Fetterman repeatedly pressured military leaders to drop the plan, a National Guard spokesperson told the Pennsylvania Independent in an email that the decision to abandon the plan was a practical one: ”Based on the Air Force’s recent decision to phase out the A-10s of the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guard at Warfield Air National Guard Base, the National Guard Bureau decided to terminate the Duke Low Military Operations Area proposal.”

“From the moment the Air Force’s proposal was announced, I’ve been deeply concerned about how low, loud, and frequent flights could disrupt livelihoods in a tranquil region that has built its identity on outdoor recreation,” Casey said in a May 3 press release. “After years of pushing the Air Force to abandon this plan, I’m glad that they are respecting the wishes of the people of North Central Pennsylvania. I will always fight to preserve the PA Wilds and the rest of the natural resources that make our Commonwealth so beautiful.”

Fetterman said: “This decision is a huge win not just for the beloved natural resources in the Pennsylvania Wilds, but also for the many Pennsylvanians who call this region home. I’m proud to have fought and delivered for these too often forgotten North Central Pennsylvania communities alongside Senator Casey. I’m also committed to working with our partners in the Air Force and National Guard to ensure our military remains strong and prepared—and I know we can do this while making sure Pennsylvanians’ voices are heard.”

Local groups had also opposed the proposal, warning it could reduce tourism and hurt the economy.

“On behalf of the residents, tourism partners and visitors to McKean County, we greatly appreciate the efforts of senators Casey and Fetterman for protecting our county and the 13 counties of the Pennsylvania Wilds,” Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau executive director Rustin Lippincott told the Bradford Era. “Outdoor recreation is paramount to the tourism economy and the quality of life is vital to the 40,000 county residents and the proposed low-flying training zone would have been detrimental to both.”

Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Reps. Fred Keller, Dan Meuser, and Glenn Thompson also opposed the project, telling military officials in a 2022 letter, “There is no question the cumulative impact would be detrimental to the region.”

The Defense Department released a draft environmental assessment in March 2023 that said the plan would have no significant impact on the region beyond some increased noise. Environmental groups disagreed, however, noting that the area included Cherry Springs State Park, Dark Sky Park, and the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. 

In a 2019 letter to the bureau, Pennsylvania Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources Cindy Adams Dunn warned, “These low-level airspace activities could adversely impact the natural resources and wildlife we protect; impede Pennsylvanian’s constitutional right to recreate in our parks and forests; and harm the people and businesses that rely on these lands for their livelihood.” 

“The Sierra Club thanks Senators Casey and Fetterman for their championship of Pennsylvania’s public lands and for opposing the Duke Low Military Operations Area, which would have undeniably and continually disrupted the peaceful Pennsylvania Wilds,” Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter deputy director Sarah Corcoran said in a press release. “Countless Pennsylvanians and residents from across the northeast visit the Wilds each year to enjoy our quiet and beautiful public lands, and with this project cancellation, they will be able to continue to enjoy the tranquility of the Pennsylvania Wilds for generations to come.”

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