Officials hope to expand Melrose range

File photo The state, working with the Department of Defense, has set aside $5 million towards the expansion of the approximate 66,000-acre Melrose Air Force Range in northwestern Roosevelt County.

Kevin Wilson

Representatives from the State Land Office and the state military base planning commission held a pair of informational meetings Thursday on what they hope will expand the Melrose Air Force Range by nearly one-sixth of its current size.

The state, working with the Department of Defense, has set aside $5 million towards the expansion of the approximate 66,000-acre range in northwestern Roosevelt County. Hanson Scott of the base planning commission, who referred to himself as the “action man” on the project, brought representatives from the state land office to a pair of public meetings at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales and Melrose High School.

The majority of the state money — $3 million — would go towards a 74-year lease of 10,968 acres of state trust land to the north and the west of the range. The land is appraised at $2.7 million, said state land office officials, with the remaining monies covering administrative and filing fees.

The remaining $1.96 million would go to Curry County, where the county commission would find uses beneficial to Cannon Air Force Base.

The state would take part in a public bid process for the land, with bids accepted up to 4 p.m. Nov. 17. An oral auction is scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 30 at the Roosevelt County Courthouse. The winner of the bid would take on terms of the lease. If the state is the high bidder, it would be a leaseholder along with the Department of Defense.

Bid packets were available at the meetings. Information about the bid packet is available at nmstatelands.org, and packets may be obtained from Dell Bearden of the state land office (505-827-3827 or dbearden@slo.state.nm.us).

The land lease, which would eliminate grazing leases, would begin Oct. 1, 2012. The payment for the lease would be upfront.

The DoD has looked for ways to expand the range, but has been advised by Gov. Susana Martinez and State Land Commissioner Ray Powell to seek a lease so the state land office can receive a benefit and still keep the land.

Land Office Range Conservationist Ann Demint said the office is a separate entity from state government and is tasked with using those lands to generate money for schools and other various beneficiaries.

The range is a separate entity of the Air Force, and is used Cannon Air Force base and other bases for training purposes. If Cannon is closed, however, language in the lease agreement would revert the land back to its original owners.

Scott doubts that scenario would take place, but said it’s something to be cognizant of with $450 billion in military cuts requested over the next decade.

“We would say that special operations is the one growth mission, but it’s reasonable to be concerned about federal budgets and defense budgets,” Scott said. “This is just Hanson Scott talking, but I’m thinking over the next 20 years, Cannon Air Force Base is going to have robust growth, and the Melrose range is going to have growth.”