Fallon Top Guns:
Navy Cracking Down on Nevadans

  By Tim Findley
  The Hatch, N.M. Courier

Middlegate, Nevada-- Back in the '70s, the bombing ranges, particularly Bravo 19 and Bravo 20 to the south and west of Dixie Valley, rumbled and thudded with explosions that were felt, as they are today, in small rolling earth tremors miles away. But even worse, the newer Mach I aircraft were crashing the sound barrier over the valley, shattering old windows, cracking plaster and even knocking dishware off the shelves.  
The Navy's response to those complaints back then was to begin a program of buying out the residents with offers of federal money that was tempting at first and gradually became take-it-or-leave-it extortion to clear the newly declared Military Operations Area (MOA) over the Dixie Valley.
By the end of the 1980's, everyone in the valley, except one family, had left. The Navy had created a ghost community of its own, and began burning old buildings that were easy to torch and posting federal "No Trespassing" signs on the fences around others.
Along the half-paved lane to "Settlement Road" where Rodney "Turk" Tschetter and his family still held out, there was a forlorn sign overgrown with weeds that said, "Slow, School," but the school was long burned and Tschetter's own 13-year-old son had to be driven every day by his parents into classes at Fallon, 40 miles away. Tschetter finally moved last year. By ten, the Navy had apparently lost interest in buying Dixie Valley property.
Ironically, for all the eerie "ghost valley" appearance it presents along its empty country-square roads and lanes, Dixie Valley today seldom feels the ear-slamming torture of Naval air warfare.
That is in part because the ultra high-tech Navy "Centroid" facility is there -- the brain center of the great electronic grid that uses Dixie Valley as its fame board. From the mysterious bunkers wired into the solar-powered "Threat Emitter" towers and larger "War Centers," technicians control the aircraft the way a teenager might waste a quarter at the arcade.
But the game needs to be played at an altitude recorded by radar, and over the valley itself, the jets are kept well above the vacant "deck."
Nobody says its not impressive. Few would doubt its obvious value for national defense. But only a handful of people like Russ and Fredda Stevenson live in the nerve-shredded periphery around it where the Navy insists it must now expand operations to stay "combat ready."
"I don't want to 'Bogart' this meeting," Captain Ronnie began, as he addressed the five member Nevada Legislative Committee on Public Lands, two members of which are themselves former military pilots.
The Captain didn't need to "Bogart" much of their time in recounting the advantages to Nevada from a "down-sized" era of military consolidation. The TOPGUN school at Miramar, California, the reserve fighter base at Alameda, the AWACS training center at San Diego all are shifting their operations to the Strike Warfare center of Fallon, under unified command for the first time by a flag officer, Rear Admiral B. J. Smith.
The base will employ 1250 active duty military and another 2000 civilians, Captain Ronnie said, in the Navy's hottest land base for air operations. But the Navy wants to be "a good neighbor," he said, and its original proposal for an expansion of 180,000 acres of air space has been scaled down to a more modest 135,000 to 140,000 acres.
"I remember that one," Francine Lowry, a rancher near Middlegate, would later tell the panel. "That one horrible plane. I was washing milk buckets and it knocked me down. I thought a freight train had hit the house. My husband lost his hearing from it. I got up and looked around, and here it came again..."
"Our Environmental Assessment report indicated there would be no significant impact from these new installations," Captain Ronnie smoothly told the legislators. "We had $300,000 worth of equipment in storage waiting approval to be installed, and then the BLM took control over communications installations and denied us the right-of-way. To us, it appeared to be a change in the rules of the game."
Someone in the crowd said in a loud, sarcastic whisper, "Hopefully, they'll bomb Interior," but the Captain seemed not to hear it.
The Navy's problem with the BLM is, however, much less over who might be deafened or stressed than it is over who is in charge on "federal" land. The land bureaucrats said, for example, that they were already concerned by the 10 million chaff filters dropped in the last 20 years. "Enough," said BLM representative Mike Phillips, "to go to the moon and back 420 times."
In Canada, he acknowledged, they feed the stuff to cows for two weeks and they didn't die, but who knows what the impact on wildlife might be?
Grace Bukowski listed to it with a tired and cynical ear. She already knows about work being down on a biodegradable

Top of page

chaff, and fluttering clouds of stuff like shreds of tinfoil designed to confuse radar tracking is not quite the bottom-line issue for Bukowski and the rural residents she represents.
"Presently, over 40 percent of the skies over Nevada are designated as Special Use Airspace (SUA) for use by the Department of Defense with estimates at 70 percent with inclusion of Military Training Routes (MTRs)," says the report of Bukowski's Rural Alliance for Military Accountability.
"Naval Air Station Fallon is attempt a massive airspace expansion that would double the present airspace use in Nevada from 10,200 square miles (15 percent of the state total) to 21,000 square miles extending eastward to the White Pine Mountains, north to the Ruby Mountains and South into Nye County."
Bukowski can talk MOAs and SOAs and SUAs with the best of them, but it's her maps obtained through Freedom of Information requests from the Defense Department that draw most attention.
The maps show an enormous region of military operations that seem to take up two-thirds of Nevada, linking the Fallon base in the north to the three million acres of Air Force atmosphere in the south and spreading on into parts of Utah and Idaho.
The proposed Navy expansion alone engulfs the frontier capitol of Austin at the center of the state, the historic mining center of Eureka, the Duckwater Indian Reservation and parts of the Toiyabe Wilderness. Even the "Loneliest Highway" following along the nation's first transcontinental trail is set to be restricted from use by general aircraft as a visual flight route.
Smaller places, like Middlegate, are hardly noticeable at all in the 12 mile-a-minute push for a larger supersonic playground. "They might just buy them out like they did Dixie Valley," said Bukowski, echoing one fear of the Stevensons themselves.
In Fallon, where federal Interior officials and their environmentalist allies continue a relentless drive to force farmers off irrigated land, folks are reluctant to be openly critical of the Navy. The base pumps an $80-million-a-year economy, and complaints are kept polite, sort of like chiding a rich uncle who drinks too much.
The local theory goes that if you didn't know there were going to be airplanes, you shouldn't have moved here. Not expanding the base operations, argued Navy League President Steve Endicott, would be like asking professional football players to play on a basketball court."
Out in the country, though, where folks like Joe Dahl and Francine Lowry and the Stevensons say they feel more like "the enemy," things seem to be getting nervously out of hand, much like medical studies on sonic boom effects suggest they might.
"It's given me Chronic Fatigue Syndrome -- currently in remission," said one woman in a statement less funny that it sounded.
Captain Ronnie understands that about the people he admits are getting "beat up," and he promised to establish a new working committee between rural residents and the Navy to reach some solutions.
"You just give me the number on that bird, and I'll see that the pilot is grounded for good," he told one rancher who complained that a darkened helicopter chased him 14 miles up a dirt road one night.
Nobody, of course, ever gets "a number," and Ronnie concedes there are many spots between the mountains where the base radar can't even keep track of their own planes.
There's something about the rich uncle's denial, that folks like the Stevensons find familiar. Those bat-winged UFOs, for example, that turned out to be Stealth fighters, or that time when the rancher from Eastgate up the road found seven of his cattle with coffee-can sized holes burned right through them. The Navy denied any knowledge of that too, but the rancher won an out-of-court settlement and somebody took down the signs out in the desert that used to say "Laser Testing."
The days of buying out whole communities like Dixie Valley are probably over. The federal government already "owns" most of the land in Nevada anyway, including stretches around Nellis where the Air Force even chases away airliners.
"But at least they could allow me my own airspace, a mile up, I think" said a frustrated Fredda Stevenson at Middlegate.
That too, however, was tried in Dixie Valley. One rancher was advised that just because he owned the land didn't mean he had rights all the way to hell, either.

Want to share your opinion? Electric Nevada's comment page is open!

Back to Electric Nevada's front Page