Enclave means Cannon has bought time

By Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

The word rang out over and over during federal deliberations over the fate of Cannon Air Force Base: enclave. It is the word Base Closure and Realignment Commissioner Samuel Skinner used to keep the base open.

In his Cannon amendment, Skinner suggested the base enclave — slowly diminish its capacities and send its assets elsewhere. The amendment passed, six commissioners voting in favor, one not, and two abstaining.

What Skinner did not say was what turning the base into a temporary enclave, through 2009, means for the Clovis-Portales area and the base itself. Those details were left largely unsketched, as was the future of the base.

Although nobody explained the details of enclavement to Committee of Fifty member Randy Harris, he doesn’t have trouble picturing a Cannon of the future.

“What the commissioners are saying (to the Air Force and the Department of Defense) is ‘Move forward with your plans to move the planes, but while you are moving forward, the base is still open. During this four-year window, you determine if there is a mission for Cannon,’ ” Harris said on a flight home from the Virginia-based BRAC deliberations.

Harris, in fact, is embracing the days ahead, he said. The months leading up to the BRAC deliberations were hectic and rushed; now, time is on Cannon’s side, Harris said.

“There has to be personnel at the base to fly the planes until the mission is moved, which won’t happen until 2008, as outlined in the BRAC guidelines. Now all of that rush and hurry up is over. This gives us a unique advantage to take a good look at the opportunities that might be out there,” Harris said.

He predicts a vastly different future for the base, under its belt more than six decades of operation.

“It could be Army, could be homeland defense. The key is the mission doesn’t just have to be Air Force,” Harris said.

Ten years ago, in the last BRAC round, three installations were designated military enclaves, according to the Government Accountability Web site, www.gao.gov. Philadelphia Naval Business Center was one such installation. The center was enclaved, the site said, “because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania did not respond to the Navy’s request to change the jurisdiction of the Navy-retained land.”

Cannon, on the other hand, was handed the designation as a prescription to commissioner woes over the suffocating economic impact — some have said one-third of the economy is tied to Cannon — closing the base would have on the Clovis-Portales area, commissioners said.

“The state of New Mexico will still be engaged with its (legal and analytical) consultants. The next few months will be very busy,” said Committee of Fifty member Chad Lydick, also traveling home from Friday’s federal deliberations.

Mirroring his colleagues expressions, Lydick said the future of Cannon is as wide open as the air space of which Cannon backers boast.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we move away from the Air Force. The interest is out there,” Lydick said.