By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers
Property owners near Cannon Air Force Base have agreed to sell land to enable the base to nearly double in size — an effort aimed at keeping the Pentagon from shutting it down.
Gov. Bill Richardson and Clovis Mayor David Lansford announced the agreement Friday, and were faxing a letter about the deal to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in Washington, D.C.
The proposed land acquisitions, about 3,000 acres , would enable the Air Force expand Cannon without cost to itself, the two said in the letter.
“This effort … follows the commitment we made during the BRAC hearing in Clovis, where we stated Cannon is not being threatened by encroachment,” the letter said. “In fact, Cannon is perfectly positioned for expansion — at no cost to the military. We are taking this bold action today to ensure that Cannon can be expanded. No other state has stepped forward with this kind of offer that benefits the military mission of the Air Force.”
During the regional hearing in Clovis June 24, Cannon supporters presented a slide that told the commission that Cannon could have double the land space for a cost of $5 million in a tie when other bases are having encroachment problems.
Clovis Committee of Fifty member Chad Lydick said the land acquisition was discussed Thursday when Richardson came for a press conference to introduce Clovis Community College President Beverlee McClure to the state’s Higher Education Department.
Lydick said the focus is to look for ways that Cannon could be of further use to the Department of Defense.
“The governor’s basically coming forward and saying, ‘We told you we could do it at the hearing,’” Lydick said. “Now we’re putting our money where our mouth is if it can enhance Cannon’s capabilities.’”
Richardson’s deputy communications director, Gilbert Gallegos, said the land purchase was “a new option on the table” to the Commission to make Cannon more attractive to keep open.
“We’re hoping that (commissioners are) responsive,” Gallegos said. “During the hearing that was going on in Clovis (June 24), we talked about encroachment being a major issue. The possibility is there for expansion.”
The independent commission is reviewing the Defense Department’s military recommendations and must send its list to the president by Sept. 8. It then goes to Congress, which must accept it or reject it in its entirety.
Cannon, adjacent to Clovis, is one of 33 major bases around the country targeted for closure as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process. The Pentagon has estimated it would save $2.7 billion over 20 years by closing Cannon, costing more than 2,700 base jobs and about 2,000 more indirect jobs.
The base’s economic impact has been estimated at $200 million a year — about a third of the economy in the Clovis community of about 36,000.
Supporters have expressed frustration the recommendation to close the eastern New Mexico base, home to F-16 units, did not take into account the fact the Air Force has been working to expand the training range around Cannon.
The letter from Richardson and Lansford said the effort to acquire land shows the base is protected against encroachment and is positioned for expansion.
The potential land acquisition will allow Cannon’s facilities and runways to expand, paving the way for future growth to accommodate the F-35 joint strike fighter training mission, unmanned missions, airborne labor missions, continuing F-16 missions and A-10 missions, the letter said.
“We encourage you to seriously consider this new agreement as you decide the fate of Cannon Air Force Base and its future role as part of the military mission of the United States,” the two men wrote.
Richardson pledged $5 million in state funds to help Clovis buy the land from the private landowners willing to sell to allow for the expansion.
Gallegos said it remains to be seen if the purchase would be made should Cannon be shuttered.
“The impetus is to have an option to keep Cannon open,” Gallegos said. “Beyond that, we’d have to see.”
Attempts to contact BRAC commissioners and Lansford were unsuccessful.