State Senate panel endorses expansion of UTTR in West Desert

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Already endorsed by national lawmakers like Orrin Hatch, the expansion of the Utah Test and Training Range now has some local legislators backing it as well.

The Utah Senate’s Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee voted unanimously recently to pass a resolution sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, that endorses a deal currently being drafted in Congress to expand the UTTR in Utah’s West Desert.

The Air Force expansion proposal includes eight select areas — about 700,000 acres in the rural areas of Box Elder, Juab and Tooele counties that sit just outside of the current range boundary — that would ultimately be acquired by the Air Force and the Department of Defense.

Those pushing the expansion say the acquired areas would work as buffer zones to guard against encroachment from communities through natural expansion and allow the DOD to better test the F-22 Raptor, which receives all of its maintenance at Hill Air Force Base, and the F-35 Lightning, which is scheduled to begin operation at Hill Air Force Base late this year.

The expansion would also allow for better testing for weapons systems like long-range strike bombers, and other hypersonic weapons, expansion proponents say.

“We were advised that, because of the nature of new systems and the necessary distance from developed areas, this whole testing process may have to go,” Bramble said.

Bramble’s resolution says the support of the expansion is contingent upon several conditions being included in the Air Force’s final proposal. Conditions stipulated in the resolution include the following: the proposal will not create a net gain of federal lands; public access to the acquired lands will still be allowed, except during temporary closures, which are to be publicized by the Air Force prior to the closure; current grazing permits are maintained; Interstate 80 will remain open; and no munitions ordnance will be detonated in the buffer areas.

Steve Erickson, who spoke to the committee representing the Utah Audubon Council and the Great Basin Water Network, questioned the true value of the Air Force acquiring the land.

“Why the need to change the ownership of the land?” Erickson said. “The Air Force has virtually unfettered use of the air space above these lands now. The question then is, if they are not going to drop ordnance on it and they’re only going to restrict periodically, and that existing uses will continue, then what’s the purpose of the exchange?”

Erickson said it’s important to look at individual parcels of land and said that a full environmental study should be undertaken on the expansion before any decisions are made.

With the committee’s support of the resolution, it will go before the full Senate.

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