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The U.S. Department of Defense is proposing to expand the Utah Test and Training Range by more than 700,000 acres into Utah's West Desert, according to Juab County officials.
Most of the possible addition to the range is public land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, along with some school trust lands. But county commissioners have been assured that current uses of these lands, mostly grazing and some mining, would continue.
The Department of Defense considers the training range vital to ensuring the readiness of its advanced air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons systems. Administered by the 388th Range Squadron stationed at Hill Air Force Base, the 2,675-square-mile range is already the nation's largest block of restricted airspace for supersonic overflights.
Commissioner Byron Woodland did not know why the Air Force needs more room, but said federal officials promised no ordnance would be fired on the expanded portion of the range.
"But they talked about closing roads in case something dropped by accident," Woodland said. "We have some class B [county] roads out there. We were told that except for infrequent occasions the roads would be open. They would have to close some roads for brief periods of time. They didn't really elaborate."
Representatives from the Air Force and Utah's congressional delegation first shared the plan with county leaders three weeks ago.
"I have some reservations that they will hold up their end of the deal," Woodland said. "Once they own it won't they come in and change things?"
Military, state and congressional officials will gather Monday in Callao to meet with residents at West Desert High School.
The county commission will also host an official meeting that morning in the remote West Desert ranching town.
The expansion would extend south of the existing range into the land east of Callao, including the Fish Springs Range.
Also occupying this terrain is the historic Pony Express Trail and Fish Springs Wildlife Refuge, a critical stopover for migratory waterfowl.
Messages left with press officers with the U.S. Air Force, and Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart's offices were not returned Tuesday.
The proposed expansion would also capture about 83,000 acres of checkerboard sections managed by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administrations, and state officials are looking to make a deal.
"SITLA is working to protect the interests of public schools by looking to acquire federal lands in exchange for what it would give up to the Department of Defense," SITLA deputy director Kim Christy said.
"We hope to acquire other federal properties that will position us with better development opportunities and help us meet our mandate to generate revenues for our beneficiaries," Christy said.