Rep. Torres Small issues notice to get community feedback on environmental impact statement.

The U.S. Air Force held its first public hearing on a proposed New Mexico airspace expansion today, Nov. 18. The event in Hobbs was the first of eight meetings designed to gather community feedback on the potential affect of Holloman Air Force Base’s plan to expand its airspace in southwest New Mexico.

The Air Force says it needs more room to fly because F-16 fighter jets are more advanced than they were 30 years ago, when the existing airspace was determined. On Nov. 1, they released a draft environmental impact statement outlining potential ecological, cultural, and economic impacts of the expansion. It estimates 3% of the population beneath the proposed airspace would be “highly annoyed” by the sound of jets flying overhead.

Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who represents a large portion of people that would be affected by the proposal, told the Silver City Daily Press that some of her constituents have also expressed concerns about the potential impact on wildlife in the Gila Wilderness.

“In all of my meetings with the Air Force and with Holloman Air Force Base — because I also represent that region — I mention the challenges and concerns that folks have expressed about F-16s flying over our wilderness.”

Rep. Torres Small has not taken a position on the issue but said she’s optimistic that the Air Force and public will come together to find a solution that works for everyone.

“This is a big part of Grant County’s identity and the economy here,” Torres Small said. “We need to communicate fair concerns, and if you look at the alternatives, there are options that could be appropriate. The Air Force needs to listen and respond to these concerns.”

In the meantime, she’s focused on ensuring constituents know about the opportunities to have their voices heard. The public can submit comments until Jan. 31, longer than the typical 45-day window required.

In addition to having more time than usual, the public also has more options. The report lays out three plans, and does not identify a “preferred alternative,” which would typically be included in such a document and indicate the most likely path forward.