County to draft resolution opposing military training area expansions
Tue, 01/17/2023 - 9:09am caleb
Board votes 6-0 to have administrator create resolution against Camp Grayling land request and planned military airspace adjustments
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners voted 6-0 last week to have Crawford County Administrator Paul Compo draft a resolution for the board in opposition of the Camp Grayling training area expansion request and proposed changes in military airspace use in the area.
According to an online informational Q&A document from the DNR and Camp Grayling, the request for the additional leased land for training – “for periodic, low impact activities such as drone operation, cyber, electronic warfare, space and communication system installation and operation” – started in early 2022.
“Major General Paul Rogers requested a meeting with (DNR) Director (Dan) Eichinger on January 11, 2022, to discuss an expansion of land use agreement. Director Eichinger asked Deputy Director Shannon Lott, Forest Resources Division Chief Jeff Stampfly, and Grayling Unit Manager Tom Barnes to join the meeting. Assistant FRD Chief Jason Stephens and Camp Grayling personnel also joined the meeting. This was followed by meetings with local officials. Communications staff were tasked with developing public information and to collect public comment once a formal proposal was made,” according to the online Q&A document.
(In December of 2022, the office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that “Eichinger will serve as the acting director of EGLE” and Lott “will serve as acting director at DNR” during Whitmer’s second term in office.)
“As the Michigan Department of Natural Resources considers a Michigan National Guard proposal to expand its Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center operations in Lower Michigan, the DNR continues to field questions and ensure public input remains a key part of the process,” according to the DNR. “The Michigan National Guard has proposed leasing about 162,000 acres of state forest land to conduct training exercises that use sophisticated communications systems.”
The current size of Camp Grayling is approximately 148,000 acres, according to military officials.
On Thursday, September 8, 2022, Col. Scott Meyers, Camp Grayling Commander, spoke to the Crawford County Board of Commissioners about the land request.
“What we’re asking for is to increase training usage in some of the lands surrounding our current training area. We’re asking the DNR director to allow us to simultaneously use those areas as well as the public,” Col. Meyers said on September 8.
“Why are we asking for this land use? Specifically, because the threats of potential enemies have increased, and so what that means is we’re dealing with things today that we didn’t deal with in previous conflicts. Specifically, range and distance of capabilities, so when we looked at the maps we looked at areas that were contiguous to some of our current training areas. We’re trying to figure out how can we get that distance in those trainings to best support our troops,” Col. Meyers said on September 8. “We would not be asking if we didn’t think it was needed. We wouldn’t ask if we didn’t think our soldiers, airmen, marines needed this opportunity to best train for the war fight. We think there’s a way to protect the recreation and those things we love about northern Michigan while providing additional access to those who are training.”
“We are not looking at closing any areas for hunting or fishing or access to those areas,” Col. Meyers said. “We listen to the public input, and how do we protect those other interests within the community so we can share those lands simultaneously.”
Later in the year, during a regular meeting of the commissioners on Thursday, October 27, the board voted against a motion to have the county administrator draft a resolution opposing the Camp Grayling expansion.
In mid-November, the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs announced that “a public comment period will re-open November 15 for the Michigan Air National Guard’s proposal to reconfigure charted airspace available for military aircrews to meet current training requirements. The proposal is a culmination of years-long coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Guard Bureau, and local communities to modify existing military operating areas at low and medium altitudes and create some new (military operating areas) on a limited basis within the Alpena Special Use Airspace.”
According to the announcement, “changes from the 2019 proposal include eliminating six miles of military training airspace from the north side of the Grayling West (Military Operating Area)” and “raising the minimum altitude from 7,000 ft. to 10,000 ft. in the Grayling East MOA to deconflict with north/south civilian flight traffic,” but local citizens and governments have raised concerns about parts of the plan.
During the public comment period of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, January 12, one citizen raised concerns about increases in flights, lower altitude flights, additional noise, and fire risk from adjusted altitude flare use.
Lovells Township and Beaver Creek Township have both passed resolutions opposing the proposed airspace changes (and the Camp Grayling training area expansion).
“The (Lovells Township) primary business district is located just 3.25 statute miles east south east of the eastern fence line of Camp Grayling’s existing Range 40 complex, Range 40 being the location where all air delivered ordnance is directed. The proposal would, if approved as presented, permit the operation of military aircraft at altitudes as low as 300 feet above ground level in the vicinity of the (Lovells Township) primary business district, a dramatic reduction in allowed minimum when compared to current restrictions, and given that the visitors to, residents of, and businesses located in the vicinity of (Lovells Township’s) primary business district currently do and historically have been forced to tolerate the noise and jet fuel fumes of low flying military aircraft under the current flight restrictions, and given the significant deficiencies of the proposal as presented the (Lovells Township) Board must adamantly and resolutely oppose the lessening of any altitude restrictions for military aircraft operating within the (Lovells Township) area,” according to Lovells Township Resolution #12-13-2022.
Beaver Creek Resolution No. 5 – 2022 says “the unnatural noise level of training is tolerated currently” but “any expansion of the ground and air usage will create a much larger distraction from the serenity of Pure Michigan driving away citizens and visitors that love our community and the peaceful enjoyment of nature,” and the Beaver Creek Board of Trustees opposes “any proposed expansion of Camp Grayling and any proposed expansion of military air space in Crawford County and the surrounding counties.”
The public comment period “for the Michigan Air National Guard’s proposal to reconfigure charted airspace available for military aircrew training” ended on January 14. The initial deadline was December 14, but the military extended it 30 days.
The “Draft Environmental Assessment for Modification and Addition of Airspace at the Alpena Special Use Airspace Complex” – a document that includes more than 100 pages – is available for viewing online through https://www.alpenacrtc.ang.af.mil/Resources/Air-Space-Proposal/
Several people voiced their opposition of the Camp Grayling training area expansion request during the January 12 board of commissioners meeting.
One citizen said the military having access to that much additional land would be a detriment to the outdoor recreation opportunities for local people and tourists.
“I just think we have to oppose this expansion,” he said. “This area is too valuable to the citizens of the state and the community.”
Another citizen said there have been contradictions in information provided about the proposal and he raised concerns about the military renting the additional land to “for-profit companies.”
Jim Knight, Bear Lake Township Trustee (Kalkaska), said he would like the military to conduct a study with regard to the current use of Camp Grayling’s existing training areas and share the results. Knight said a “substantial amount” of the existing land “is not being used” and Camp Grayling should not need more.
“I just want to say none of us are anti-military but this has gone too far,” Knight said. “If this is allowed to go through this will change things substantially.”
Dan Bonamie, Beaver Creek Township Supervisor, said the proposed expansions of land and airspace could negatively affect the area’s tourism revenue and property values. Bonamie spoke about the ongoing PFAS water contamination issue in the community stemming from military site sources, asking why the community should be willing to give up more public land when the military has not cleaned up the PFAS.
Daire Rendon, former District 103 state representative, said her office received numerous calls about the proposed expansion of Camp Grayling training areas and “did not receive a single call from someone who supported it.”
“This is our opportunity to stand up and voice those opinions,” Rendon said.
Later, during the agenda portion of the Camp Grayling expansion discussion, District #2 Commissioner Dorothy A. Frederick moved to have Compo draft a resolution opposing the Camp Grayling training area and airspace expansions. District #6 Commissioner Sherry M. Powers provided support, and the board passed the motion 6-0 (one member not present in person).
“That’s what our community wants. They’re making their voices clear that’s what they want,” Commissioner Frederick said.
Compo said he would have a resolution ready for the next meeting of the board (January 26).
After approval of the motion, during the second public comment session of the January 12 meeting, Knight said he received a call from the governor’s office about the expansion issue, and news of the opposition – including the many governmental resolutions – has travelled “across the state.”
“It got the attention of Lansing. This sends the message that we are unified,” Knight said.
Also during the second public comment period, one citizen said he is in favor of both the land and airspace expansions.