Residents have varying concerns on expansion

By Tony Parra

FORT SUMNER — There are no major environmental impacts revealed from the Environmental Impact Study of the New Mexico Training Range Initiative to expand the airspace for Cannon Air Force Base, according to Brenda Cook, the project manager for the initiative.
Cook and other CAFB officials held a hearing with members of Roosevelt, Curry and DeBaca County residents to listen to their complaints and concerns. The initiative would expand military airspace around Cannon from 2,600 square miles to 3,300 square miles. It would also allow planes to fly lower and increase the sonic boom average from one every five days to two every three days, according to Cook.
Cook said there will be no potential to convert farmland to non-agricultural uses, no significant impacts to livestock and no impact to property value.
Still, the results of the study did not sit well with some ranchers and residents.
“I’ve dealt with the Air Force for 26 years,” A.S. Elliott, a rancher who owns land 18 miles southwest of Fort Sumner, said. “They created a route over the top of my house. I’ve had to file nine damage claims in the last nine years. I’m against it.”
Elliott alleges that he’s had to deal with debris, such as bullets, metal fragments and flare canisters, from flight training over his property.
Col. Christopher Ceplecha, the CAFB deputy commander of operations, said the expansion is vital in their war against terrorists because technology has allowed the terrorists to evolve. Ceplecha said the CAFB airspace is limited and if the expansion is approved can be comparable to other bases such as Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nev. and Mountain Home Air Force Base in Boise, Idaho.
“We have to modify the airspace to allow for effective training,” Ceplecha said. “We want to go faster. The air space, currently, configuration does not allow us to train effectively.”
Ceplecha said he doesn’t want to have the pilots’ first experience with sonic booms take place in actual combat.
Betty Greathouse, who lives in Portales and owns a ranch in Floyd, was not receptive to the idea of the expansion.
“I believe we should be good stewards of our land,” Greathouse said. “The Air Force doesn’t seem to be good stewards of their land. We’ll (residents) be here forever. It’s our land.”
But not everyone was opposed to the airspace expansion and greeted the opportunity to help CAFB.
“I’m so thankful for them (CAFB),” Mary Andreas, who has lived in Fort Sumner since 1950, said. “I have a different perspective because our family was military. Anything to help them. I’m supportive of their efforts.”
Cook said the National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to analyze any potential environmental consequences. First Lt. Jennifer Geeslin of Cannon Air Force Base’s public affairs office said the airspace expansion does not mean there will be an increase in traffic, but rather a change in the types of missions pilots can go on for better training.
Geeslin also said the expansion would allow for large force exercises, 20 to 30 aircraft, between CAFB and Holloman Air Force Base pilots in the southwest part of the airspace, northeast of Capitan.
The EIS draft was completed on Jan. 7 and CAFB officials have held hearings in Santa Rosa and Roswell already. CAFB officials will hold another meeting at 6 p.m. today in the Clovis Community College town hall. The meeting will begin with a 30-minute open house to view maps and designs of the proposed airspace, followed by a presentation until 7 p.m. The event will conclude with the public hearing at 7 p.m.
A final EIS draft is scheduled to be completed by September 5 and a record of decision by Oct. 5.