CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle Blake Prather leaves the podium Thursday after talking about an alternative site to the proposed ethanol plant at the City Commission meeting.
By Jean Verlich: CNJ news editor
The Clovis City Commission voted 6-2 at Thursday’s meeting to recommend Great Lakes Aviation to continue providing the city’s air service to Albuquerque.
The vote came after more than two hours of presentations by representatives of Great Lakes and New Mexico Airlines and their supporters debating aircraft pressurization and safety, airfares and passenger loads.
Commissioners Len Vohs and Robert Sandoval voted for New Mexico Airlines.
The city will submit Great Lakes’ $2.36 million proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation as its recommendation for a federally subsidized air service contract for the next two years.
“I don’t think I have ever been sold as hard as I’ve been sold on this,” Commissioner Fred Van Soelen said.
He said the aviation board was put in place to make a recommendation and for that reason he was voting for Great Lakes.
Vohs said he did not support Great Lakes because it has only about 220 boardings a month and New Mexico Airlines offered “the best opportunity and guarantee.”
Mayor David Lansford said he favored New Mexico Airlines, noting he votes only in the event of a tie.
“There is no soul at the airport that I could call vibrant,” he said, which was greeted by applause by about a dozen people in attendance.
“I cannot vote in favor of the motion if given the opportunity to vote.”
Much discussion centered around the type of aircraft operated by each airline.
New Mexico Airlines President Greg Kahlstorf explained the reasons his airline selected the Cessna Caravan, which seats nine passengers and is not pressurized. He also spoke about plans to lessen dependency on the federal subsidy.
New Mexico Airlines submitted a $1.95 million proposal.
Kahlstorf and his attorney, Randall Harris, brought a three-inch-high stack of 400 to 500 letters from people in the community in support of New Mexico Airlines.
“The people have spoken,” Kahlstorf said. “Give the people what they want.”
Great Lakes Airlines Chief Executive Officer Charles R. Howell IV noted the Department of Transportation requires essential air service carriers to operate pressurized aircraft with a minimum of 15 seats.
“In the spirit of the contract, we’re the only ones that comply,” he said.
He described the Beech 1900 aircraft Great Lakes operates as “your lifeblood to economic development.”
Civil Aviation Board Chairman Roger Hatcher, lone dissenter on the board’s 4-1 vote to support Great Lakes, said he was in favor of New Mexico Airlines because of the promise of lower airfares and “wanting to see things grow.”
“I think its amazing we have two airlines fighting it out in the street,” Hatcher said.
New Mexico Airlines begins essential air service July 1 for Hobbs and Carlsbad.
Commissioners also heard comments against the proposed ethanol plant from representatives of Concerned Citizens for Curry County.
ConAgra Trade Group is planning to build a plant west of the city on Highway 60-84. About 30 area residents attended the meeting to show opposition to the plant, many expressing concerns about health and air pollution issues and the impact on property values.
Lansford explained that the location of the plant is outside the city’s jurisdiction.
“We have no authority whatsoever to hinder this plant,” he said, adding that Curry County has no zoning regulations.
“There is really no structure in place for us to (stop this),” he said.