Base supporters continue efforts to save Cannon

David Stevens: Freedom Newspapers

Cannon Air Force Base supporters are wrapping up their campaign to keep the base open as Base Realignment and Closure commissioners retreat to consider all the information they’ve gathered in the past three months.

Eastern New Mexico’s congressional delegation, along with Gov. Bill Richardson, has been making final calls to commissioners in recent days, said Chad Lydick, a member of the base support group Committee of Fifty.

“We’re making final contacts to talk to them about the latest things that have come up,” Lydick said, referencing plans to expand the base if needed and supporters’ promotion of Cannon as an economically sound home for the Joint Strike Fighter jet, scheduled for release in 2008.

Lydick said commissioners have always been receptive to hearing from Cannon supporters since the base was recommended for closure by the Department of Defense on May 13.

“They have been responsive to accepting new information; they’re very glad to get it,” Lydick said. “But as far as how much longer we’ll be given that opportunity, that may even be closed (now).”

Commissioners have scheduled meetings Aug. 24-27 in Washington to decide which bases will close, officials have said. They have until Sept. 8 to make their recommendations to President Bush.

Lydick said the meetings next week will be open to the public, but he doubts commissioners will accept testimony in those final days. That’s why local officials began making their final pitches late last week.

U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., said she talked with BRAC Commissioners James Hansen and Sue Ellen Turner on Monday morning by cell phone.

“I think they haven’t made a decision … and certainly options are still open,” Wilson said. “My sense is they are very impressed by (Cannon and the surrounding community) and they were very glad to get additional information … Those things said, I don’t think they have any idea about how things will turn out.”

Wilson said she used the separate telephone conversations to reiterate her concerns about the accuracy of information the Defense Department has distributed about Cannon and costs associated with closing bases in general. She applauded both commissioners for challenging DoD recommendations.

“I’ve been struck this time by the degree of independence of the commissioners and their serious probing of the Defense Department. … I don’t think the commissioners have been very impressed by the Defense Department’s analysis. They’ve been calling them to account on it and I think that’s great,” Wilson said.

Five commissioners are needed to remove Cannon from the closure list. Lydick said he believes all nine of the commissioners will vote on the closings, despite earlier concerns from the BRAC legal counsel about conflicts of interest.

Lydick said no commissioners have made their positions on Cannon known.

“We’ve had no commitments, just lots and lots of discussions,” he said. “I think they are all very intimately aware of the economic impact (closing Cannon would have on the region) and they are very in tune with the scenario that a lot of the Air Force cost-savings analysis is flawed. They’ve been pretty well up to speed. I think we’ll get a fair shake.”

The Pentagon has estimated it would save $2.7 billion over 20 years by closing Cannon, costing the base’s 2,385 military employees and 384 civilian jobs and about 2,000 more indirect jobs.

The economic impact of the base has been estimated at $200 million a year — about a third of the Clovis economy in a community of about 36,000.

Cannon is one of 33 major bases around the country targeted for closure as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process.