Commission votes to hold public hearing on proposed county road closure

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks The Curry County Commission is expected to vote today to close Curry Road R out of consideration of concerns from Cannon Air Force Base.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Closing Curry Road R for the benefit of Cannon Air Force Base is meeting little resistance.

But where the traffic will be diverted appears to be the heart of residents’ concerns.

A proposal put before the Curry County Commission on Tuesday sought to close the road hugging Cannon’s west perimeter. Reasons cited by base command include security, safety and quality of life.

The proposal designated Curry Road T as an alternate route. Cost estimates for paving the dirt road by chipsealing are about $2 million, money which would be sought from state, federal or other available grants.

Commissioners voted 4-1 — Chairman Frank Blackburn cast the dissenting vote — to hold a public hearing on the proposal during an Aug. 18 commission meeting and start seeking money for the project.

Blackburn said he wants a study to look at the issue in more depth.

Blackburn lives north of the base. He said approximately 300 vehicles a day travel Curry Road R to get from N.M. 467 to U.S. 60/84 and vice versa.

Blackburn said he supports constituents’ concerns about the increased traffic the change would bring to Curry Road T.

Blackburn pointed out Curry Road S has only one resident. He said it doesn’t make sense to reroute traffic all the way to Curry Road T when Curry Road S is also viable.

“This needs to go back (to committee), we need to explore more options,” he said.

Becky Lewis said she lives 1 1/2 miles from Cannon on land her husband’s family homesteaded.

“We’re 100 percent for you guys. We know that (Curry) Road R is going to close probably and we know it’s in the best interests of everybody,” she said.

However, Lewis said five of her family members have homes off of Curry Road T and the increased traffic may impact their quality of life.

“I am for closing the road for safety, I am just concerned for the people on T,” she said, leaving the podium in tears.

Doug Reid, who lives 1 1/2 miles northeast of Cannon, reminded the commission the community has made changes for Cannon before.

Reid cited a traffic light installed under one commander to lead traffic to a west gate. He said it wasn’t liked by the next commander, who refused to implement the west gate, and the traffic light was eventually removed because it almost caused several accidents.

“My problem is we have not had public input … the leadership changes at Cannon, they have different ideas of how to do it,” Reid said.

“I just hate to see you guys make a major decision without having public input.”

Others, including Clovis Mayor Gayla Brumfield, gave impassioned pleas for meeting Cannon’s needs.

Local businessman Stacy Martin reminded the commission when faced with the closure of Cannon during the BRAC process, the community won a new mission for the base, in part, because it lacked encroachment issues found in other communities.

“These communities made a promise to the Department of Defense. We said give us a mission and we will give you space,” Martin said.

“It was not easy to get this mission. Gentlemen, you’ve got one more issue in front of you (to make it complete).”

Col. Stephen Clark outlined Cannon’s concerns.

“I don’t have an issue with which road you decide to go to,” Clark told commissioners, explaining his priority is just getting Curry Road R closed.

“If you close Curry Road R, one you solve my issues; two, you make me a hero,” Clark said with a chuckle.

Clark said the road places traffic too close to the end of base runways. He said it creates a security risk from terrorists. He also said it potentially places civilians within a danger zone should a plane crash or a munitions issue arise.

“The adversary knows who we are and he knows who’s kicking his backside,” Clark said.

“My promise … our promise to our families (is) that we will take care of them while their spouses are deployed.”

Clark said he also plans to enclose the Chavez West housing area adjacent to the base and station gate guards at the entrance. Clark said the change is necessary because special operations are known to attract enemy attention and enemy surveillance has been documented at other facilities.

Clark said expansion at Cannon is expected to maximize its existing facility with the addition of aircraft and personnel.

“We can fit all that within the current footprint that we have. We will maximize every square foot that we have, but we will fit,” he said.

Clark also said the road closure will alleviate the need for a railroad crossing near military housing, where up to 300 train whistles a day impact quality of life for residents.

In other business conducted Tuesday by Curry County commissioners:

• Voted to cancel an Aug. 4 meeting for lack of a quorum. Several commissioners have other obligations.

• Voted to hold a public comment session at its Aug. 18 meeting on a proposed nuisance ordinance. The ordinance has been rewritten to be more specific.

• Voted to prohibit pets at the Special Events Center with the exception of trained animals used by impaired patrons and animals participating in events.

• Voted to hold a public comment session at its Aug. 18 meeting regarding creation of two single-member magistrate court districts in the county.

• Voted to increase mileage reimbursement for county employees from 32 cents a mile to 41 cents under new state guidelines effective this week.