Curry commissioners back training request

Sharna Johnson

Assuring property owners’ rights would not be encumbered and the future of wind energy in the region will not be jeopardized, Curry County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution supporting low altitude training efforts by Cannon Air Force Base on Tuesday.

Commissioner Caleb Chandler proposed the resolution in support of a Low Altitude Tactical Navigation (LATN) plan.

The training would take place in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

Chandler commended Cannon for duties they perform and stressed the need for training to aid them in special operations combat missions.

“I think the very least we can do is support their (training),” he said, reminding that Clovis and Curry County vowed support of Cannon’s mission during the BRAC process when the base faced closure.

“I think it’s unfortunate that some people in our state have not taken a (positive position) in regards to that training.”

Within a proposed 94,000-square-mile area, Cannon would train its MC-130 and CV-22 crews. The training would include three flights, or sorties, a day at 200 feet and higher.

Chandler said aviation regulations preventing flight within 500 feet of people or structures would still be in effect.

The Taos, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba county commissions, along with the city councils of Las Vegas and Taos, have passed resolutions opposing the plan. Additionally, the Peaceful Skies Coalition has formed in opposition to the proposal.

The San Juan County and Colfax County commissions have passed resolutions in support of the proposal.

“I’m going to support this but I’ve been a victim of this low-level flying myself,” said Commissioner Frank Blackburn.

Blackburn said a low-flying B-1 en route to Dyess Air Force Base once startled his cattle, causing them to ruin fence panels and injure themselves.

“Let’s don’t call these people rabble-rousers … There is a legitimate concern,” he said in defense of those who have opposed the training plan.

Grady resident Jerry Powell said landowners are supportive of Cannon’s needs but want assurance that if passed, the training plan will not prevent building wind turbines or other structures within that 200 foot ceiling.

“We’re proud of them and we want to support them,” he said, explaining the value of Cannon to the local area is unquestioned but the potential economic benefit of wind energy can’t be underestimated.

“The landowners want to be assured this will not be hindered in any way … We want to be sure that it does not infringe on our rights to develop wind energy,” he said.

After hearing from a handful of like-minded residents, at the urging of Blackburn, commissioners voted to add language to the resolution that support was contingent on the understanding the plan “will not affect the development of wind energy in Curry County.”

Chairman Bobby Sandoval reminded those present the resolution was only a symbolic show of support and not law.

“I’d like to assure the public that this commission, while we’re still in office, if anything were to come up that would harm the public, we would do something about it,” he said.

“It’s just a resolution. I don’t know how else to say it.”

Cannon officials have said the Air Force can fly at 500 feet over most the area already according to Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

They have also said aircraft will spend 90 percent of the time between 400 to 600 feet or higher and only 10 percent of the time at 200 feet.