By Gwendolyn Craig
The U.S. Army at Fort Drum is revising its programmatic environmental assessment for additional training in the Adirondacks region, which will be available for the public’s review at a future date.
The Army will avoid forest preserve, sensitive wildlife areas and community hubs and will decrease the amount of training originally proposed, according to members of an ad hoc committee Fort Drum organized to review its plans.
The Army had proposed up to six air and ground training exercises per year for the 10th Mountain Divisions’ Aviation Brigade and Sustainment Brigade. Each training could last up to 14 days, with a maximum of seven days cleanup.
In a news release on Thursday, Fort Drum officials said the reason for increased training stemmed from successful off-post training exercises in April 2018. Fort Drum, the Army base in Jefferson County, was the launch point for hundreds of soldiers to travel by ground and air to Vermont. The exercise gave soldiers “new terrain and unfamiliar locations to get from Point A to Point B in a way they can’t do on post,” said Cait Schadock, coordinator for Fort Drum Public Works National Environmental Policy Act, in the release.
Now, the Army is looking for ways to do that again, but on a more programmatic level.
At first, the environmental assessment for additional training in the North Country identified a broad area including Essex, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties for training. It did not identify any state Constitutional protections afforded some lands in the Adirondacks, nor the Adirondack Park Agency and the legal protections it regulates. Fort Drum officials then presented an ad hoc committee a list of locations including an airport near Saranac Lake, cleared timberlands and state lands just outside of the Adirondack Park.
Julie Halpin, director of Fort Drum Public Affairs, emphasized again how the locations were hypothetical, “used to validate the screening criteria.”
“At this time we have no plans to actually propose training in the forest preserve because the screening criteria eliminates it as a potential location,” she wrote in an email.
The ad hoc committee that reviewed this criteria and the hypothetical sites included representatives from the Adirondack Park Agency, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, New York Air National Guard, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club and Tug Hill Commission.
Dave Gibson, managing partner of Adirondack Wild, emailed Adirondack Explorer with some of what he believed were the biggest outcomes of the stakeholders’ meeting. One included the decrease in training from six missions to two per year. The missions would not include live-fire ammunition, explosives or drone operations, the Army added in a news release.
The Army had also agreed not to repeat missions in the same site in one year, “allowing a given training site to rest for at least a year.” The Army also committed to avoiding all forest preserve classified wilderness, primitive, canoe and wild forest.
“That is a big win for the environment and will really help Fort Drum’s ability to gain permission for what it wants to do,” said John Sheehan, director of communications for the Adirondack Council.
Gibson also said the Army’s commitments were a success “and a big improvement from the situation presented to all of us in August.” He thanked APA and DEC officials for their role educating the Army about the various protections and regulations afforded to forest preserve in the Adirondacks.
Halpin said there are no additional meetings of the ad hoc committee planned. Once the Army updates the programmatic environmental assessment, Halpin said it will be posted to public record. She deferred to state officials for information on potential reviews.
A spokesperson for DEC said the agency’s review would depend on the Army’s specific activity and location proposed.
“However we are pleased that Fort Drum has expressed an intent to avoid significant environmental impacts,” the spokesperson added in an email. “Opportunities for public review and comment will be provided as appropriate based on the laws and procedures that may apply to any particular proposal.”
So far, neither DEC or Fort Drum has provided a timeline for when that might be.
“As of now, we haven’t determined any date for an off-post training exercise, but we are pleased with the efforts and support from all the agencies and organization involved in making this possible,” said Lt. Col. George Rollinson, 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade home station mission commander, in a news release.
Halpin thanked the ad hoc committee for its help.
“The committee was incredibly productive and we very much appreciate everyone’s input and dedication to establishing screening criteria that will allow the 10th Mountain Division to meet its training needs while avoiding significant impacts to the environment.”