Air Force releases impact statement

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

Plummet. Spike. Drop. Level out.

The next few years of Cannon Air Force Base’s proposed transition to a Special Operations base look like a chart of the stock market.

Over the next six to seven years, Cannon population numbers will drop significantly when the F-16s leave and the base prepares for restructuring, spike during a construction phase, and then begin to level out as the base gets a solid footing between 2011 and 2014, according to a summary of the recently released Air Force Environmental Impact Statement Draft.
When all is said and done, there will be about a 17-percent increase in population associated with Cannon personnel, including dependents, the executive summary said, or approximately the same as during the F-111 mission assigned to Cannon through 1994.

The 16th Special Operations Wing is scheduled to take over the base in October.
As Cannon’s current F-16-related population moves out, a process already started and estimated to last through March 2008, numbers will drop from 4,467 active-duty military personnel, civilians and contractors to about 3,200, the study said.

The dip is expected to be followed by rapid growth beginning in 2008. In 2010 there will be 5,680 base personnel, the study said. The long-term population associated with the base including active-duty personnel and their families would be around 10,784, which is 1,880 people more than the current number of 8,904, the study said.

These numbers are comparable to those Cannon experienced during the F-111 mission through 1994, the study said.

Clovis Mayor David Lansford said the transition period will likely be difficult economically for some as people leave Cannon initially, but he said the area can overcome it and will be better off in the long run as things level out.

“I think it’s very sustainable,” he said. “Whatever fluctuations that we go through will be very sustainable for the community in light of the fact we know the outcome of these transitions.”

Similarly the construction phase could bring a sudden influx of short-term population numbers, impacting schools and housing needs.
“There’ll be some transition pains, but I think that ultimately the community is going to continue to thrive and prosper,” Lansford said.

Although initial housing demands could be met with available housing vacancies, the expected housing demand could be more than 5,000 units between 2008 and 2014 as workers come to the area for the construction phase, the study said.

AFSOC officials estimate Curry and Roosevelt counties have approximately 1,600 housing units available, creating a shortfall of about 3,580 housing units during that time.

Lansford projected the rental market is one aspect of the local economy that may feel the waves more than others.

In addition, there would be a projected replacement of 1,000 existing older military housing units with private housing during the transition, the study said.
Max Watt, a Clovis Realtor for 29 years, said she sees the slow spell as an opportunity for Clovis to prepare.

“We finally can sort of sit down and be more prepared,” she said. “Something that would be worse is if they said 2,000 people are coming next month. It gives a timeline and definitely more time for preparedness.”

Area schools will also experience a fluctuation in numbers as the transition plays out. The study projects school enrollment could spike by 2,253 students during the construction phase.

Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said this comes as no surprise. Planning concepts and proposals such as the adoption of a ninth-grade center, research for a vocational school and moving sixth-graders to local junior highs are some of the ways administrators are working to accommodate growth in area schools, she said.

“It’s not a surprise to me at all that we’re going to lose kids before we gain kids,” Seidenwurm said.

“I think we’ve pretty much done what we need (to start preparing). Because of the way schools are funded, I have to be able to project as much as I possibly can.”
Lonnie Leslie, chairman of the Local Growth Management Organization formed to deal with Cannon growth, said his group is still in the preliminary stages of digesting the 477-page report.

“I think it’s exciting. For the community it’s an exciting opportunity,” Leslie said.

“We’re so early in our research, we haven’t even had a chance to have a meeting.”