Residents oppose county road closure

Sharna Johnson

The potential closure of Curry Road R has some residents riled up and planning to attend a Monday policy committee meeting of the Joint Land Use Study to make their voices heard.

A topic of discussion for more than two years, the issue arose again recently when a study commissioned by local governments identified the road as a potential compatibility issue between Curry County and Cannon Air Force Base.

“A lot of us don’t think it’s that imperative that they close (Curry Road) R,” Ranchvale resident Doug Reid said, explaining he plans to be at the meeting.

The Monday JLUS meeting is scheduled to discuss a draft report on the study.

While the JLUS does not directly formulate or enact policy, it identifies potential issues and helps identify strategies to reduce issues, draft changes to local land use ordinances and regulations and creates an action plan with recommendations and implementation strategies, according to Rudy Bauer, project manager.

Public input is also an objective of the study, he said.

“The JLUS is intended to develop the commitment of participating local governments, the Department of Defense, and other public and private stakeholders,” Bauer said in an e-mail.

“To implement recommendations which will avoid or mitigate incompatible land uses while supporting economic development for the citizens of Curry County and Eastern New Mexico.”

During a Sept. 8 JLUS policy committee meeting, the issue of Curry Road R was addressed and a report from the county attorney was included in the JLUS, Bauer said.

About two years ago when the mission at Cannon switched from a fighter wing to special operations, base command approached the county about closing the road due to security concerns.

Curry Road R, which runs along the base’s perimeter fence creates a security risk because of its proximity and access to the base, base officials said.

A suggested solution has been to close Curry Road R, then pave and re-route traffic along Curry Road T about two miles away, a decision which ultimately lies with the county board of commissioners.

Costs for paving the dirt road by chipsealing have been estimated around $2 million, money the county said would be sought from state, federal or other available grants.

But residents believe other solutions should be explored rather than closing what they say is a well-built road serving as an access to get to Portales and southern areas of the county.

Reid said it is a waste of money and also infringes on the rights of property owners in the area who will lose a point of access to their land, something for which they should be compensated.

And he said he’s concerned that while current command at the base is concerned, the next commander may have different priorities, a dynamic he said he has seen many times over the years.

“I believe we need a strong military and I’m willing to sacrifice some of my conveniences for that,” he said.

“We jump through all these hoops to please the wing commander and then he leaves and the next one has a new idea.”

Shirley Phipps lives on Curry Road R, north of the area being considered for closure.

For years Phipps said she has used the route to get to Portales rather than driving several miles east to access State Road 467.

“We’d have to go all the way around … it would have had a big impact,” she said. “We like to go down there now and then (to Portales) to shop or to visit… And there’s other people out here in the community that uses that road as well to go Portales.”

Ernie Wright said he, too, has issue with the proposed closure.

A resident of Curry Road S, Wright said he has always used the route to shorten his trip to Portales.

He said there is also concern about changing the traffic patterns in the area and what that increase will mean for the residents of adjacent roads if CR R is closed.

“I have nothing against (Cannon) but I don’t like them pushing and shoving outside that fence. I didn’t want them to leave then or now but there ought to be a way for us to coexist,” he said.

“They’re in the security business — I can’t believe they can’t keep an eye on about two and a half miles of their fence and let the rest of the world go by… We don’t want it changed unless there’s a really good reason and we haven’t heard a really good reason yet.”

Bauer encouraged residents to take part in an interactive survey on the JLUS website and said there is also information available there for community members.