By Darrell Todd Maurina
New Mexico’s military bases have a good shot at remaining open despite an upcoming Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process in 2005, according to officials of the New Mexico Military Base Planning Commission.
However, members asked the commission chair, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, to meet with Gov. Bill Richardson to gain his support for state legislation to help keep the military bases open.
The Department of Defense expects to release base closure criteria around the end of the year, and Denish said she expects New Mexico’s four military bases — Cannon Air Force Base, White Sands Missile Range, Kirtland Air Force Base, and Holloman Air Force Base — to do well.
If that’s not the case, Denish said the state’s congressional delegation — including Sen. Pete Domenici on the Senate Budget Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Jeff Bingaman on the Senate Finance Committee and Rep. Heather Wilson on the House Armed Services Committee — will help.
“I think we will be very prepared, once the criteria are released, to see how New Mexico matches up,” Denish said. “If there are any areas that we feel we cannot meet, we will be prepared to work with our congressional delegation on that.”
A retired Air Force three-star general on the committee agreed, but said the state should use its clout sooner rather than later.
“You can play defense all day long, but every once in a while you need to go on the offense,” said retired Lt. Gen. Leo Marquez. “The Pentagon can be an impenetrable wall when they want to be that way. I know, I was part of it, and so was (commission executive director) Hanson Scott.”
Marquez said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been handling the current BRAC process differently from previous rounds of base closures, and said the state should make its pitches to the highest levels possible.
“Rummy is one tough SOB and he is going to get what he wants,” Marquez said. “The (Pentagon) staff are an obstacle every time. These machinations are going to go on behind the scenes by drones and we’ve got to get beyond them.”
Other commission members said keeping New Mexico’s bases may depend upon adequately presenting what New Mexico offers. Key assets, commission members said, include a lack of encroachment by civilian uses and large amounts of available airspace connecting all through New Mexico and into west Texas. The committee’s executive director also said a study of base water usage shows no water problems, and noted that New Mexico has recently made large increases in state spending for education.
Items proposed for action by the committee include special legislation directing all New Mexico governmental units “to adopt land use plans and enforce zoning regulations that ensure compatible development with military installations” and giving base commanders the opportunity to comment on land use affecting their bases, as well as providing more than $15 million in infrastructure improvements including $10 million for road and bridge improvements near Cannon Air Force Base.