Feds outline available assistance for N.M.

By Marlena Hartz : Freedom Newspapers

Federal officials outlined the type of assistance they can provide to eastern New Mexico during a meeting of the Local Growth Management Committee held Wednesday at the Clovis City Hall.

Representatives from the Office of Economic Adjustment said they can provide technical expertise and financial assistance to the region in order to help it adjust to the new mission at Cannon Air Force Base.

The Air Force Special Operations 16th Wing will assume ownership of Cannon in October 2007, according to the Air Force.

The Local Growth Management Committee, comprised of regional officials from Clovis, Portales and Curry and Roosevelt counties, requested the assistance of the OEA. Communities impacted by Department of Defense program changes are eligible for the OEA assistance. The office operates under the umbrella of the Department of Defense.

Needs that arise with the new mission, however, must be identified locally, representatives from the Office of Economic Adjustment stressed.

“The last thing I want to do,” said Gary Kuwabara, one of two OEA project managers assigned to help the communities surrounding Cannon Air Force Base, “is walk into a community in a three-piece suit and say, ‘I’m from Washington. I’m here to help you.’”

Needs of the region will likely be determined by a regional advisory board, Local Growth Management Committee officials concurred Wednesday. The board would be comprised of Curry County, Roosevelt County, Clovis and Portales representatives versed in areas such as infrastructure and area resources (schools and hospitals). Regional government entities will seal the exact function and design of the board in the next few weeks, committee officials said.

The advisory board would lend “one voice” to the region, acting as a liaison for the region, the Air Force and the OEA, Clovis Mayor David Lansford said.

The agency can provide financial assistance to communities through grants, available only for studies, OEA project managers said. Most grants range from $100,000 to $400,000, and all require a 10 percent non-federal match, OEA project managers said.

“Our grants are for analysis. We are not a bricks-and-mortar group,” OEA project manager David Witschi said.

There are 22 other federal agencies with OEA connections that can also provide assistance to Department of Defense-impacted communities, Witschi said. Of those 22, about 12 also have grant programs for such communities, he said.

“The burden is on the community to win those awards from the federal agency,” said Witschi, who added he can act as an advocate for eastern New Mexico in pursuit of such funds.

Witschi and Kuwabara said they will frequently visit the region, and Wednesday’s meeting marked the beginning of their involvement in eastern New Mexico.

The Local Growth Management Committee will meet again in September, committee members said.