By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
Proposed special ops aircraft and operations for Cannon Air Force Base were outlined at the Clovis Community College on Monday in the first of three meetings scheduled to gather public input for an Environmental Impact Study of the base’s new mission.
By law, the study must be completed before any of the mission’s assets are transferred to Cannon Air Force Base.
The Air Force Special Operations Command assumes ownership of Cannon in October 2007.
“We want to hear from you,” Carl Hoffman of AFSOC base development told attendants. “Bury my mailbox. Make my secretary hate you. That is my job.”
Few public concerns were voiced during the meeting, although one woman queried military officials on how they would control fires during training. About 50 community members attended the meeting.
Holding scoping meetings is the second phase in the nine-phase Environmental Impact Study process.
By March 2007, a draft for public review should be complete. By August 2007, a decision about what assets are coming to Cannon should be made, said Bob Van Tassel of the Science Applications International Corp., the company hired to conduct the environmental study.
“Our intention is to be good neighbors,” said Col. J.D. Clem, deputy of planning and programs at AFSOC.
However, nothing about the new mission “is set in concrete until the (environmental study) is complete,” Clem said.
At this point, proposed aircraft for Cannon include several models of the AC-130 Gunship, with side-firing guns, and the MC-130, as well as CV-22 Ospreys, unmanned aerial vehicles, and small airlift aircraft, according to Clem.
Proposed operations for Cannon include practice of take-offs and landings, refueling, air drops, and night and low altitude flying, according to Clem. He said pararescuemen, combat controllers and special operations weathermen would also conduct ground training.
Melrose Bombing Range — 66,000 acres of training land situated about 25 miles from Cannon — would be used primarily for AC-130 gunfire practice, Clem said.
Last November, air training munitions of the 27th Fighter Wing sparked a fire at Melrose, which spread to nearby communities, devouring about 27,000 acres of rangeland.
“Fire is a concern of ours,” Clem said.
He said studies will determine the location and force size of firemen associated with Cannon’s impending tenants, the Air Force 16th Special Operations Wing.
Clem said several common sense precautions, such as control grass growth, would probably be employed to prevent fires.
“With a bombing range, there is always some bother and irritation, but that is the price of having the military,” said Jerry Nash, a Floyd landowner who lost 700 acres of land in the November fire and attended the Monday scoping meeting.
In December, an Air Force official said about $700,000 in damages had been distributed to landowners affected by the fire.
“My main concern,” eastern New Mexico resident Tom Davis said after the meeting, “is whether they will expand the range or not, if they will change grazing leases.”
Davis said he has already sold a portion of his land to the Air Force. He said if he hadn’t, his property would have been condemned.
“They took all of one ranch I grew up on,” he said.
Davis said the Air Force offered a fair price for the land, but he does not want to sell more of his property.
The EIS will investigate impacts to the natural and human environment, according to AFSOC documents. The study will document the impact of the proposed AFSOC operations, alternative operations, as well as the impact of no mission at all, Van Tassel said.