Rampant NIMBYism is reaching new heights, literally, as residents of rural Colorado rise up in opposition to a proposed modest increase in the number of low-level military training flights over the area. Perhaps this new permutation of NIMBY should be dubbed NIMA -- short for "not in my airspace." Are we really to believe that a small increase in the number of prop aircraft overflights will cause cattle stampedes and the disturbance of wildlife in the wide open spaces of Southern Colorado? Next we'll be told that the flights must be suspended during jackalope mating season.
I'm not sure how deep this sentiment really runs; all it takes is a few squeaky wheels to hijack the "public process" and skew a debate -- especially when the increasingly anti-military militants of Southern Colorado can always count on a supportive pat on the head from the region's major daily. But it's really getting absurd. Just how "black helicopter" the paranoia has gotten in certain circles is indicated by this Chieftain editorial, which attempts to quell conspiracy theories swirling about military drone operations, based on the misreading of a news story.
"Sometimes folks will add 2 and 2 and come up with 17," the paper quips. That's the history of this protest movement in a nutshell. How in the world can we adequately train soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen for real-world combat if our civilian population is completely intolerant of any inconveniences those training operations cause? And what message does this send to the Pentagon, where future base closure and troop distribution decisions will be made?
The Pinon Canyon controversy already must have Washington wondering whether Colorado has "gone California": whether we've been invaded and taken over by yippies. The whining about a few additional overflights must be raising even more doubts. U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn says the Pinon Canyon controversy will have no impact on Fort Carson's ability to attract a new aviation brigade, but I'm not convinced. The Pentagon is likely to take the path of least resistance when making such basing decisions, in my opinion. And why would it move that brigade to potentially hostile territory, if friendlier, more welcoming facilities can be found?
One person who attended a recent Chamber of Commerce trip to Washington returned with potentially-alarming news: during one of the briefings, apparently, there was talk that another round of base closures and consolidations may be approaching, sooner than anticipated. Colorado was fortunate to benefit from the last round; whether it will be so lucky next time can't be taken for granted. Negative or positive perceptions about our attitude toward the military may not be the deciding factor in how we weather the next round. But the knee-jerk negativity of a few noisy activists won't help.
The next governor, whoever he is, needs to work with state and federal legislators to begin rebuilding Colorado's reputation as a military-friendly state. Colorado Springs would suffer most if the Pentagon begins moving its people to more welcoming climes. But the entire state stands to lose, economically and fiscally, if this major economic engine is snuffed-out by a minority of militants.
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