Standing room only at City Council for EMRTC drop zone discussion
The City Council meeting was standing room only for a discussion of the proposed EMRTC drop zone near Socorro, New Mexico. Some citizens were forced to stand in the outside hallway, because they were unable to get inside the council chambers due to the crowd size. New Mexico Tech's Van Romero presented the official EMRTC position, while Dr. Greg Miller from the Drop Zone Group (a group of concerned Socorro citizens) rebutted Romero's presentation with an opposing viewpoint.
Several citizens took the podium to address the city council members and voice either opposition or, in a few cases, support for the proposed drop zone. A lawyer for Kokopelli ranches also attended and warned ominously of an impending lawsuit should EMRTC proceed. Van Romero's presentation downplayed any possible environmental impact, claimed the firm which authored the environmental assessment was "well qualified", and all in all tried to spin things in such a way as to alleviate citizens' concerns. Dr. Romero repeatedly suggested that there would be little to no noise impact on Socorro, due to the drop zone site being located several miles from town. Romero commented that the expected flight paths would be far enough away from Socorro so as to make any noise impact negligible. Further, Dr. Romero mentioned that he recently accompanied an Air Force C-130 on a flight over the proposed drop zone site, in preparation for the city council discussion, and said that the townspeople of Socorro probably didn't hear it or, if they did, it would have been barely perceptible.
The problem many citizens have with Dr. Romero's assurances, as noted by Dr. Miller in his rebuttal, are that the flight paths are actually not spelled out in the EA document, so this is all speculation. In addition, suggested flight paths are just that - suggestions - and may be altered for many reasons, including weather, smoke (fire), dust, and so forth. When questioned by city council members as to whether Dr. Miller had noticed any noise from the training flight that Romero took, Miller responded that he was recently overflown by C-130's while in his office, and that it "rattled the windows." He supported this with photographic documentation of the planes. There is no way to know whether the planes seen and heard (and felt) by Miller were the same plane that Romero was on, nor do we know if these planes were on the expected flight path for the proposed drop zone. However, he did see and hear C-130's recently.
Dr. Greg Miller's rebuttal noted several key omissions, errors, or ambiguities presented in the environmental assessment (EA) document that was presented from the EMRTC viewpoint. One of Miller's key points was that official correspondence with Kirtland Air Force base's 58th Special Operations Wing (58th SOW) indicated that the drop zone was not needed, nor was it requested, by the Air Force. This information stands in stark contrast to the EA document, which claimed that the drop zone was largely driven by the needs of the Air Force for training.
SocorroNews.com attended and, while there is no precise way to gauge the exact numbers, we estimate that a heavy majority were opposed to the drop zone, with a vocal - and heartfelt - minority in support. A few citizens complained that Van Romero's presentation was light on details and data, but heavy on anecdotes and unsubstantiated claims. Many citizens admitted to being impressed with Romero's "stage presence" and commented that listening to Romero was a bit like listening to noted Wyoming defense attorney Gerry Spence, with his down home folksy charm. Problem was, Romero's charm was selling something many in attendance weren't buying. For an in-depth critical analysis of the EMRTC EA document, see the drop zone critique.