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Training expansion on hold for big B-1, B-52 bombers

Jan 2, 2013 - The Associated Press

If put into effect, the plan could send the huge warplanes over a larger area of Wyoming than is now used for the training.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- An Air Force plan to more than triple the area that can be used in training exercises for the Dakotas-based B-1 and B-52 bombers is still undergoing an environmental review nearly a year after the final report was expected.

If put into effect, the plan could send the huge warplanes over a larger area of Wyoming than is now used for the training.

Officials at Ellsworth Air Force Base are in the process of holding phone meetings with American Indian tribes throughout the area to talk about sensitive cultural, historic and religious properties on tribal lands.

The six-year effort to expand the airspace is a complex process that involves working with the Federal Aviation Administration, the region's American Indian tribes and the public through a detailed environmental review.

A draft environmental impact statement was released in August 2010, and public hearings were held in the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana later that year to solicit public comments, said Maj. Matthew Reese, an Air Force spokesman based at Ellsworth.

The Air Force earlier had said a final environmental impact statement was expected to be released last winter.

"It's still being finalized," he said. "It's out of Ellsworth's hands, certainly."

Reese said the effort is a long, painstaking process involving a number of different agencies and governments, which has slowed progress.

In a letter to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe scheduling a meeting, Air Force Col. Mark Weatherington said the 28th Bomb Wing is proposing to develop an agreement that would legally bind the Air Force with commitments to avoid, minimize, and mitigate adverse effects to historic properties in the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming.

"We're in the middle of that discussion and there's still a long way to go there, too," Reese said. "We're getting everybody together on open phone lines to talk things through."

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