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Humble Beginnings - page 10 / 63





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Not only were hunters and hikers excluded from the mountains north of Groom Lake, but also citizens with mining claims in the area. In 1981, the Air Force discreetly requested that 89,600 acres of land encompassing the range be legally withdrawn from public use. The process of approving this request took several years. It also resulted in a battle between the government, citizens, and various special interest groups (such as the Sierra Club). In the end, the government won.

By March 1984, government security personnel prohibited travel and controlled access along the Groom Lake road northeast of the lakebed. In August, the Groom Mountains withdrawal was approved subject to an environmental impact statement (EIS) and public hearings. Congress officially authorized the withdrawal in 1987, and the following year President Ronald Reagan signed legislation making the Groom Mountains part of the Nellis Air Force Range until 2003. None of the documentation (EIS, archeological surveys, etc.) mentioned Area 51 or the Groom Lake test facility.

As public access became increasingly restricted, facilities in the DREAMLAND complex increased dramatically in number and size. During the mid-1980s new dormitories were constructed to replace the Babbitt housing. Several large water tanks were added to supply the base. Hangar 18 was built near the south ramp.

Four "Rubber Duck" temporary aircraft shelters were erected near the Southend for use by TAC personnel during F-117A acceptance tests. Many new facilities were built and, by the end of the decade the "Rubber Duck" shelters were replaced with metal hangars (Hangars 20 through 23). Recreational facilities expanded to include the softball diamond and movie theatre, as well as a swimming pool and tennis courts. The latter are located adjacent to Sam's Place, the local saloon and recreation center.

Runway 14/32 was extended 4,600 feet further southeast of the lakebed because the north end was subject to flooding during the rainy season. The runway now consisted of a 13,530- foot strip of concrete, 150 feet wide. The 10,000-foot hard asphalt extension and lakebed abort curve remained, but fell into disuse. The cost of maintaining the concrete runway became increasingly prohibitive.

AFFTC leadership determined that the most cost effective solution would be to keep the southern half of the airstrip open until a new, parallel paved strip (runway 14L/32R) could be completed. The new concrete strip was constructed in 1991. It does not extend out onto the lakebed, but a lead-in line to the abort curve was marked on the lakebed. The northern half of the original runway (14R/32L) was closed, reducing its length to about 10,000 feet. It was finally closed along its entire length. In 2001 the South Delta Taxiway was marked as runway 12/30. It is approximately 5,420-feet-long and 150-feet-wide, with convenient access to the Southend ramp.

A new central taxiway was constructed in 2003 to support runway 14L/32R.

The Groom Lake base received some unwanted publicity in 1994 when a number of former workers from the site sued the government. They claimed their health had been damaged by inhaling toxic fumes from the burning of waste materials in open trenches near the main base. For four months after the suit was filed, the government determinedly denied the existence of the base itself. Finally, however, it was forced to acknowledge that there was "an operating location at Groom Lake," but refused to provide a legal name for it citing "national security" concerns.

Air Force secretary Sheila Widnall declared that the facility "has no actual operating name per se." This was partially true. Since the Air Force had taken control of the facility in 1979 they had not used the name "Area 51," but instead simply referred to the operating location as DET 3, AFFTC,. Attorney Jonathan Turley tried on behalf of the plaintiffs to get the government to provide a legal name for the site, but was stymied at every turn.

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