Otero County commissioners are preparing a letter to the U.S. Army disapproving of its proposed unmanned aircraft activities at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.

The proposed activities, if approved, would mark the first time the maneuver site's actions have physically crossed into Otero County, Commissioner Keith Goodwin said at the Monday meeting of the commissioners.

Goodwin disagreed with the Army's claim in a letter to commissioners that unmanned aircraft activities would not pose a threat to historic sites or properties in Otero County. And, he said, he isn't comfortable with the Army's phrasing of their proposed activities. That is, to use national airspace for training operations with the Gray Eagle, an unmanned aircraft, "or other similar UAS from Fort Carson to Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS), over PCMS, and within a 1-mile zone outside of the PCMS boundary."

"The idea being, I have a hard time signing a blank check, personally," said Goodwin. "That's what it's asking for. In that it will be a little hard to say, 'We'll approve this and anything else in the future that you ever think of.' That's a little tough to come up with."

The Army has not allowed time for the public of Otero County to comment on their plans, either, and Goodwin said that was intentional.

The commissioners' letter, Goodwin said, will ask the Army to pull back and reexamine its proposal from square one, to be transparent about the process and supporting activities they want to implement, and to allow the public opportunity to give its input.

"It's not right to have something to just happen because they want it, and we didn't have a chance to say something about it," said Goodwin. "I think the public is due to have due course. Particularly since this particular one involves (the area) from Rocky Ford and Fowler down highway 50 and all the way south, includes Otero County."

He added this is not something the commissioners are taking lightly, and that there's a big difference between a transparent proposal-and-approval process and someone from the top brass simply passing down orders with the expectation that the county will oblige.

Commissioners still are taking time to review the Army's proposal in drafting their own letter, which Goodwin said they will also share with national representatives and senators when they are ready. Goodwin was reluctant to discuss the matter further, referencing the commissioners' active work in regard to it.

Goodwin said the commissioners plan to have their letter ready by next week.

The county shared a copy of the Army's Section 106 evaluation with the La Junta Tribune-Democrat. It describes the Gray Eagle as a medium-sized drone that is "weapon-capable" and powered by diesel fuel. With a wingspan of 56.3 feet and a length of 29 feet, the Gray Eagle is capable of maintaining speeds of 170 miles per hour for up to 36 hours.

cburney@ljtdmail.com