During a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing Tuesday, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) continued his effort to create buffer zones for White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss to preserve their critical missions. The buffer zone is more important than ever, with plans to build an electric transmission line through New Mexico, an urgent need to ensure the future of the alternative energy industry.
Senator Heinrich, along with Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and John Cornyn (R-TX),introduced the bipartisan proposal earlier this year that represents a three-party agreement between the two military installations and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
"This bill allows for land transfers and withdrawals that will add critical safety, security, and planning buffers to White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss, and it will play an integral role in accomplishing their national security missions," said Senator Heinrich in the subcommittee hearing. "This is an important bill for southern New Mexico, and frankly an important bill for our national security."
Appearing as a witness before the committee, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy, and the Environment Katherine G. Hammack opened by thanking Senator Heinrich for his "support of the Army and the important training mission there."
When Heinrich asked Assistant Secretary Hammack about the importance of completing all three parts of the agreement at once as opposed to a more piecemeal approach, she answered, "It preserves the security mission ... still reserves the lands for use by missions that are not conflicted, [such as" allowfullscreen frameborder="0">
Executing each part of this agreement through legislation at the same time will help facilitate the important work done by the military and NASA at White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss, and will provide a comprehensive and enduring buffer for the their total mission set in Doña Ana County.
This bill would:
- Transfer 5,100 acres of land from the BLM to the Army in order to provide a critical safety and security buffer to NASA's White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) and the Department of Defense's Aerospace Data Facility - Southwest, which are both key tenants of White Sands Missile Range;
- Transfer 2,050 acres of land in Fillmore Canyon from the Army to the BLM to create a boundary that is more clearly identifiable to the public to prevent accidental trespass onto Fort Bliss; and
- Prohibit the BLM from selling or exchanging 35,550 acres of land in order to prevent incompatible development near the Fort Bliss Dona Ana Range Complex and Training Areas that include some of the Army's premier large weapons system firing ranges and artillery firing boxes. This land will still be accessible to the public for recreation, grazing, transportation, and other existing uses.
A list of witnesses who testified in today's Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining hearing can be viewed here.