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Associated Press, Published September 15 2010

SD ranchers worry about Air Force training plan

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Ranchers and others say they are worried about an Air Force plan to quadruple the size of the area it uses to train pilots flying B-1 and B-52 bombers stationed in the Dakotas.

The military this week began a series of 18 meetings to get public comment in South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana on the plan for the Powder River Training Complex to expand the training area from 7,000 to 28,000 square miles.

At the first meeting Tuesday in Rapid City, ranchers said they are worried about their ability to use planes to check herds and spray crops, and about noise from training exercises.

"We treasure our peace and quiet," said Marvin Kammerer, who ranches near Ellsworth Air Force Base in southwest South Dakota. "If it's so safe, then why don't they just fly over Rapid City at midnight and let them hear the sound of freedom?"

Ray Jilek, the chief pilot at Eagle Aviation in Spearfish, said the Air Force plan would at times redirect his commercial flights to and from Billings, Mont.

"This effectively will cripple aviation in our area," he told the Rapid City Journal after Tuesday's hearing. "I'm concerned that they haven't even considered the business traveler who will wait an extra four hours."

Col. Jeffrey Taliaferro, commander of Ellsworth's 28th Bomb Wing, said the same number of training flights currently flown would be spread over a larger area.

"When I first started flying the B-1 in 1990, we bombed from less than a mile away, and now, threats reach out over a couple of hundred miles," he said. "It's about creating more realistic setups for our airmen.

"I think the key message is we are going to continue to be good neighbors, just like we are in our current airspace," Taliaferro said.

Others at Tuesday's meeting said they are worried about plans to begin training with flares and chaff, according to television station KEVN-TV. Flares are used to distract heat-seeking missiles. Chaff is tiny, aluminum-coated material which, after blocking radar, would fall to the ground.

The Air Force says neither material would pose a safety hazard, and that the use of flares would be suspended in areas where wildfires are a threat.

The military late last month issued a nearly 500-page draft environmental impact statement on its plan. No date has been announced for a final decision on the expansion.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.