Plan to close Tonopah Test Range criticized

WASHINGTON -- Nye County Commission Chairwoman Joni Eastley appealed this week for the government's nuclear weapons agency to keep open its flight testing base at the Tonopah Test Range.

"Our county has served the nation's defense needs at every turn," Eastley said. "We have yet to shy away from doing our patriotic duty.

"All that we have ever asked is that we be treated with fairness and respect."

Eastley delivered comments at a public hearing Tuesday on plans to reconfigure the nation's nuclear weapons complex that includes the Nevada Test Site and the remote Tonopah proving ground 140 miles north of Las Vegas.

Saying its facilities are too old and too numerous, the National Nuclear Security Administration proposes to downsize the network of laboratories and weapons dismantlement factories that played key roles in the Cold War.

Among a host of recommendations, the agency plans to shift its testing of components in air-dropped bombs from the 280-square-mile Tonopah range to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico or to the Nevada Test Site.

In a short presentation, Eastley, echoed comments delivered at a public meeting earlier this month in Tonopah. Eastley said relocating NNSA flight testing to New Mexico would devastate Tonopah, resulting in the loss of as many as 135 jobs and an economic loss of $153 million annually.

"But that doesn't tell the whole story," she said.

Family members are active as county search-and-rescue workers and volunteer firefighters. Some are teachers. Others belong to parent-teacher organizations.

"They operate family-owned businesses," she said. "They fill critical positions in our county and state offices."

Eastley said she reluctantly would support moving the Tonopah mission to the Nevada Test Site "because the jobs would stay in Nye County."

But she urged that the government ensure that benefits of that move would accrue to Nye County. She said federal investments customarily migrate to Clark County which "bears no burden in return for this benefit."