BRAC talk: Summaries of Cannon presenters

BRAC commissioners, foreground, said eastern New Mexico’s arguments for sparing Cannon Air Force Base were strong, but cautioned the nation has many “great bases” on the closure list. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

The nine who testified on behalf of Cannon Air Force Base at Friday’s regional hearing of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission:

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. — The senator introduced the entire case for Cannon supporters. He said the Air Force and Department of Defense are making a mistake in recommending Cannon for closure. He asked commissioners to take the base off the list.

He said the presentation by community leaders and the other delegates would show that data concerning Cannon inaccurately reflects its military value; data about cost and savings do not exist; that Cannon has air space the nation needs for its current and future security; and the adverse economic impact would “eviscerate” a community.

“We’ve embraced the military with open arms, listened to their needs and given them everything they asked for,” he said. “In the past six years alone, we have provided over $50 million in military construction to improve Cannon.”

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. — The senator used his two minutes before the Commission to introduce the question of economic impact from the closure of Cannon Air Force Base. He said he strongly believes the closure of Cannon would have a devastating effect on the area economy.

“As you will hear (in the presentation), the Defense Department significantly underestimated the impact that closing Cannon would have on Curry, Roosevelt and neighboring counties,” Bingaman said.

He said the DoD estimated that one in five jobs would be lost from the economy. However, another study shows the impact would be closer to one in three jobs, he said. He also spoke about the 1967 closure of Walker Air Force Base near Roswell, and how 40 years later the community is still not fully recovered.

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M. — Wilson spoke about the New Mexico Training Range Initiative, and how the Pentagon failed to take it into account when assessing Cannon’s military value. She said the initiative — which would expand supersonic high altitude air space — has made it through all of the environmental and community reviews.

She also said the Pentagon’s formulas consider space only, not the quality of the training.

“The wing at Cannon has the opportunity for more realistic training flying over land, searching for targets, dropping ordnance on targets, and integrating operations with ground units at White Sands and Fort Bliss,” said the congresswoman.

She said the Air Force’s assumption that the training range will still exist if Cannon doesn’t is a bad assumption to make, because “people accept training ranges when they are associated with bases in their communities.”

Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. — The congressman told a story of a man who was stationed at Cannon, subsequently retired from the military at another base, and promptly moved back to Clovis because of the hospitality he felt here.

He said he felt comfortable the evidence presented at the hearing would prove two points — that Cannon is important to America’s military, and that Cannon and Clovis have established a close bond.

He also outlined the base’s history, the many jets that have been flown from the air field, and the performance of base personnel over the years.

“The superb performance exhibited during Operation Iraqi Freedom was a result of the realistic training the pilots received at Cannon,” Udall said.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish — She spoke at the hearing about the human effects that closing Cannon Air Force Base would have. She also previewed some of the arguments about the economic implications of such a move. After the hearing she spoke about what she thought was a successful presentation to the BRAC Commission.

“They put on a fabulous, superb, compelling case to keep Cannon Air Force Base,” she said. “We made the most compelling case that could possibly be made for Cannon and I know that … they are going to reverse their decision and Cannon is going to be alive and well in a few weeks.”

Randy Harris, Committee of Fifty — In his opening remarks, Clovis’ primary speaker said the Air Force understated economic impact and did not consider Cannon for additional missions. He also said alternative scenarios should be considered that more realistically evaluate long-term military value by closing bases with significant encroachment.

He argued that errors, gaps and outdated data exist and must be corrected or Cannon could be closed for the wrong reasons. By category, he showed what the Air Force scored the base, and then what the community scored it with “correct” data. He said when the base is properly considered, it moves into the top five air bases ranked.

Among those categories are the following:

• The air base lost the most points in a category that looked at the proximity to air space supporting the mission, Harris said. Cannon only received 6.04 points of a possible 22.08. However, Harris said the Melrose Bombing Range should have been given the maximum score, which would bring up the overall score. Two other ranges that Cannon can use were not reported and the operational hours were reported at 12 hours a day due to self-imposed limits, he said. Cannon could operate 24 hours a day, he said.

• Cannon scored a 2.64 out of 7.25 on proximity to low-level routes. Harris argued that Cannon should have received the highest score possible, because it has four low-level routes and eight low-level route exits less than 50 miles from Cannon. Most bases don’t have this many due to air traffic encroachment, he said.

• Cannon received no points for suitable auxiliary air fields, Harris said. However, the base should have scored a 3.89 out of 5.18 because the data did not include the Clovis Municipal Airport, which will have a suitable auxiliary runway by fiscal year 2006.

• Cannon’s access to supersonic airspace was rated at 1.34 of a possible 6.72 by the Air Force, Harris showed. However, he believes the base should have scored 5.04 because Cannon has four supersonic airspace operating areas within 100 nautical miles of the base. He also spoke about the New Mexico Training Range Initiative, which would expand nearby supersonic training space, but was not considered by the Pentagon.

• The area cost factor for Cannon was rated at .74 of 1.25 by the Air Force. Harris argued that Cannon should have received full points in this category because the base has the lowest cost per flying hour of any ACC base.

• Harris spoke about buildable acres for industrial growth. Cannon was scored a .05 out of 1.96 in that category, but Harris argued it should have received the full rating. He said Cannon could double in size for about $5 million.

He spoke about the low level of encroachment, and how that category — which he said is vital for the future of the Air Force — was not weighted highly enough in the Pentagon’s formula. Additionally, to show the community support for the base, he told commissioners Clovis purchased land and donated it to the Air Force.

Hanson Scott, director of the office for military base planning and support — Scott sought to show the recommended closure of Cannon would adversely affect the lives of military personnel. To this point, he showed that BRAC recommended changes would likely result in multiple three-year overseas assignments for personnel, which would negatively affect retention.

The COBRA analysis, a government study that looks at what could be saved by closing military bases, revealed some questionable calculations, Scott said. For instance, in the weeks before the release of the BRAC list, the Net Present Value of Cannon went from $1.3 billion to $2.7 billion. He said a realistic analysis shows projected cost savings from closing Cannon do not exist.

He outlined the ways in which the DoD is seeking to transform the military through this BRAC round, that New Mexico supports this initiative, in that Cannon plays a vital role in this effort.

Chad Lydick, Committee of Fifty — Lydick’s objective was to show commissioners just how devastating the economic impact would be in eastern New Mexico if the recommended closure takes place.

“An economic impact of this magnitude will be unrecoverable for the people here during their lifetime — and perhaps even of their children,” Lydick said.

The DoD estimated a regional job loss of 20 percent, he said, but another study done by state-hired Keystone International shows the number to be closer to 29 percent, he said.

He also spoke about the housing market, showing that 2,000 homes in the Clovis market are directly controlled by the military or military personnel. A base closure would flatline “new housing starts” for the next 26 years, he argued. He also highlighted the negative impact on the medical services, minority populations, and other services. He closed by stating the economic impact on the area would be three times as great as estimated by the DoD.
At the press conference afterwards, he underscored his faith in the resiliency of the region.

“Even if we lose it,” he said, “the people (here) are so strong that we’d survive it.”

Gov. Bill Richardson — The governor wrapped up the testimony by drawing conclusions about the total argument heard before the Commission. He spoke about the capabilities and characteristics of the air base that strengthen the military, the low-level routs and supersonic airspace not considered by the Pentagon, among other points.

“And you’ve learned that Cannon has a rare and precious gift: great weather,” Richardson said. “You can’t just create 329 days of sunshine. You either have it or you don’t. And we have it.”

He said closing the base would be detrimental to national security and devastating to the community.

Then, in closing, he asked the commissioners to remove Cannon from the closure list — for the good of the American people, he said.