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.|
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
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
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.
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