The current Cannon Air Force Base commander, Col. Stephen Clark, as well as the preceding base commander, has made requests to the county commission for more than two years for assistance with security issues and other obstructions critical to their mission. These issues primarily involve County Road R and the land immediately west of the base perimeter.
The base commanders have emphasized their concern for the safety of our military men and women and their families. Since the tragedy of 9-11, the risk to the mission of Special Operations Command has increased dramatically.
Other major concerns, as expressed in a July 2009 letter from Maj. Gen. Kurt Cichowski, former vice commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, deal with aircraft operations. He explained that “Aircraft operations require a clear zone 3,000 feet by 3,000 feet at the end of a runway, and the accident potential zone extends another 5,000 feet beyond that. Due to public safety concerns associated with Curry Road R being in the clear zone, we are forced to limit aircraft operations which, in turn, adversely impacts aircrew training and combat readiness.” He stated, “By closing Curry Road R, we gain critical airspace that will allow us to fly under a broader range of conditions.”
The county commission has responded by passing resolutions to close Curry Road R from U.S. Highway 60-84 south to Curry Road 7 and to construct an alternate chip-sealed road from state Highway 467 to U.S. 60-84. The commission also directed the county manager to apply for state and federal funds for the project.
There have been meetings with Gov. Susana Martinez, former Gov. Bill Richardson, state legislators and our congressional delegation. Letters of support for closing County Road R and for the funding have been written by several community leaders.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman sponsored a federal appropriation of $973,834 for the alternate route.
The county commission voted on March 1 to use the money to pave or chip seal the alternate route, Curry Road S, from 60/84 to Curry Road 7, to State Road 467. Whether County Road R is ultimately closed or not, the alternate route will reduce County Road R traffic and is a partial solution.
Curry County Vice Chairman Wendell Bostwick, state Sen. Stuart Ingle and I have met with Martinez and several members of her staff over the past two months for Capital Outlay funds to purchase land west of Cannon Air Force Base.
An Aug. 5, 2005, Clovis News Journal article reported Richardson and former Mayor David Lansford announced that property owners near Cannon Air Force Base had agreed to sell land, which would enable the base to nearly double in size — an effort aimed at keeping the Pentagon from shutting Cannon Air Force Base down during the BRAC hearings. The money was not forthcoming and no property was purchased. If Martinez makes the money available for this land purchase, negotiations between landowners and Curry County would be reinitiated.
Although the issue of expanding the Melrose Bombing Range by adding a buffer zone is a totally separate issue that the county commission is not directly involved in, we are supportive of the expansion. State Land Commissioner Ray Powell, who is charged with protecting the state land trust, has also told us he supports the expansion, but he always favors long-term leases rather than the sale or gifting of state land. Powell said if a lease could be brokered, it means the entire lease payment would go into a state fund for public schools, the legal benefactor of the lands in question.