CLOVIS–The Curry County Board of Commissioners approved a motion to file a tort claim notifying of a potential lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force during its Tuesday morning meeting.
The lawsuit in question would seek damages from groundwater contamination caused by the use of fire-fighting foam at Cannon Air Force Base over the past several decades.
The commission increased the proposed maximum claim amount from $5 million to $10 million to cover a broader range of potential damages.
“At this current time we’re estimating over $100 million in damages to that area,” said Commissioner Seth Martin, who first suggested raising the claim amount above 10 percent of the estimate during the meeting.
According to County Attorney Steve Doerr, this is only a notice and not a full lawsuit, as government entities must receive written notice before having lawsuits filed against them.
The county will need file the notice by November, after which it will have a two-year period to bring a suit against the Department of Defense.
According to Doerr and County Assessor Candice Morrison, the land is now unsuitable for agricultural use and will lead to a significant tax loss for the county due to the economic impact over the next few years.
“We’ve already lowered the taxes on Schaap’s dairy because the effect this has had their water contamination,” Doerr said. “They can’t raise livestock for human consumption or probably even for dog food.”
Morrison gave a rough estimate of a $766,000 loss per year, with no indication of how many years these problems may persist.
“There’s no set amount of time this land will be in this state and we might never even recover from this,” Martin said.
Commission Chairman Chet Spear noted that while Cannon may be listed in the future lawsuit, he said the lawsuit would not be targeting the base and instead target the Department of Defense.
“We’re not against Cannon. We support them 110 percent and love having them here,” Spear said. “The people utilizing these chemicals were just stationed at the airport and may not even be in the Air Force anymore, but the DoD is the parent company of the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines and was using these chemicals. Cannon is just the location.”
Other action items from the Tuesday morning meeting at the Commission Chambers include:
*The board approved budgetary adjustments to add $69,939.94 awarded for census outreach to the funds being used the county’s participation in the New Mexico 2020 Statewide Census.
*The board approved the purchase of a new Broce Broom machine for $59,760.50 and a used pneumatic roller for $117,222.30 using the Buyboard prices through Bee Equipment.
*The board discussed what to do with the roads of the Norman Subdivision, which is on land affected by the chemicals leak from Cannon Air Force. Since the land is unlikely to be used for development, the board requested the road continue to be maintained in its current state.
*The board declared October to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, National Medicine Abuse Month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month and National Cyber security Month.
The next Curry County Commissioner meeting will be scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 15.
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