EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Boston and Beyond

May 11, 2014

Homeland security

Mass. Air National Guard wants use of tribal lands

PORTLAND, Maine — The National Guard is reaching out to the Penobscot Indian Nation in hopes of restarting discussions over a proposal to double the amount of airspace in which fighter jets could conduct low-level training over western Maine.

The tribe, which owns 20,000 acres in the training area, remains steadfast in its objection and is deciding whether to re-engage in talks, said Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis.

Like many in western Maine, tribal members who use land in Alder Stream Township don’t like the prospect of screeching jets interrupting their activities.

“The tribe has formulated its position. We don’t know what value there is in continuing the conversation,” Francis said. “The National Guard seems to have a hard time letting it go.”

The Massachusetts National Guard, whose fighters were first on the scene in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, contends more airspace is needed for training for homeland defense. That includes additional low-level training for fighter pilots to practice identifying and intercepting enemy aircraft.

Under the proposal, F-15s and F-16s from National Guard units in Massachusetts and Vermont would be allowed to fly as low as 500 feet over the hills and mountains of western Maine and a sliver of northern New Hampshire.

Not mentioned in the original proposal is the military’s newest fighter, the stealthy F-35, which the Vermont Air National Guard will receive in 2020. Those fighters are even noisier than the older jets.

The process of completing an Environmental Impact Statement is underway, and federal law requires the government to consider any impact on traditional cultural resources of American Indians as part of its effort.

While the Penobsots have a reservation on Indian Island, they use Alder Stream Township for hiking, fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities. The land is also used for cultural events and rites of passage like the vision quest to find spiritual guidance, Francis said. The flights also could interfere with future efforts to develop wind power, he said.

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