UPDATED to reflect deadline extension for public comment on the Maryland Air National Guard’s Draft Environmental Assessment.

Residents are questioning the time table and environmental impact of a proposal by the Maryland Air National Guard to perform low-altitude military training over a region that is an outdoor recreation destination and home to Amish communities in rural Pennsylvania. 

The Maryland Air National Guard seeks to control airspace by establishing the Duke Low Military Operating Area, or MOA. The MOA proposal would permit training units to fly as low as 100 feet above ground level for up to 170 days per year. Training is now limited to 8,000 feet above sea level. 

“There is concern that the [Maryland Air National Guard] has not done adequate outreach to educate the public on the proposed Duke Low MOA and the potential impacts. There is also concern that the issuance of a ‘Finding of No Significant Impact’ would be premature,” said Ta Enos, PA Wilds Center CEO, in a statement. 

Enos and others are asking organizations to sign on to a letter in support of the Air National Guard hosting public meetings in each of the affected counties — Cameron, Clinton, Elk, McKean, Potter, and Tioga – to provide informative presentations and offer opportunity for input and questions.”

The Pennsylvania Wilds is a 13-county region that includes Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lycoming, McKean, Potter, Tioga, Warren, and northern Centre. 

A map of the Pennsylvania Wilds (Source: pawilds.com)

Alicia Cramer, senior vice president with the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and a resident of the area, said the region is dependent on tourism, and there has been heavy investment from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, philanthropic organizations, and others. The area includes bike trails, hunting, and camping grounds, and an elk center, among other sites to see. 

“So what we’re asking the Maryland National Guard to do in this area before they just proceed with going to 100 feet, is to really study the potential impacts and to perform a full Environmental Impact Statement,” Cramer said. 

The public comment period for the Draft Environmental Assessment is open until December 15. (UPDATE: The Maryland National Guard has extended the public comment period for its Draft Environmental Assessment to December 31, 2021, according to the Potter County, Pennsylvania, government.)

“PA Wilds Center has asked the [Air National Guard] to do a full, more robust Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) so we can all better understand what the impacts will be,” Enos said in the statement. “I know some people fear that by speaking up they will be seen as anti-military. I can say unequivocally that is not what this is about. We are a hugely patriotic region and respect and value our military. But there is potentially a lot at stake for rural [Pennsylvania] with this proposal, and it is important for us to ask for more due diligence on it.”

Cramer said they are seeking a thorough look into the impact of the proposal on the area. 

“We would just like to make sure that rural America isn’t kind of being imposed upon,” she said. “We want to make sure it doesn’t impact what we’ve got here.”

She noted that there is a strong Amish community in the area, with a lot of horses, and it’s unclear how the horses could react to such training flights. 

Additionally, if something were to happen – such as a bird strike – there needs to be a strong emergency personnel presence. In the area, most are volunteer emergency medical personnel and have been affected by Covid and a lack of resources, Cramer said. 

“They’ve held no public meetings, and they only have posted this in four small public libraries,” she said, adding that the process hasn’t been transparent. 

“And there must be a way to work together and not just kind of have this forced upon them with no input,” she added. “Raising the rural voice is really important here.”

The Maryland Air National Guard did not respond to a request for comment. 

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