Congress is working to pass a defense authorization and spending bill as it winds up work for the year. But it won’t include an expansion of the Air Force Test and Training Range in Utah’s West Desert, at least not this time.
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch had proposed an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that would have transferred more than 700-thousand acres of public land to the Air Force. But his office issued a statement Wednesday saying he believes it would be better to move ahead next year. It says he wants to give Utahns an opportunity to provide input on the expansion.
That’s fine with Steve Erickson. He represents the Great Basin Water Network and the Utah Audobon Council. Part of the plan involves a land exchange between the federal government and Utah’s State Institutional Trust Lands Administration or SITLA.
“I know that there’s issues around the lands that would get exchanged," Erickson told KUER. "What would SITLA get in return for this deal that the senator’s attempting to strike? And we’d certainly like to take a look at some of that too to determine whether those lands are appropriate for transfer.”
A number of groups have expressed concern about the possible expansion, including ranchers, county governments and the Goshute Indian tribe.
The Air Force says it needs a larger area to support pilot training for its new F-22 and F-35 fighter jets.