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White Sands’ national park status in Trump’s hands

White Sands National Monument. (Susan Montoya Bryan/Associated Press)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

President Donald Trump’s signature is all that is needed for White Sands National Monument to become a national park.

And the president is expected to sign the legislation to do that. The change in designation is included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate passed 86-8 on Tuesday. The House passed the bill last week.

The national park designation isn’t the only way the legislation would affect New Mexico. The $738 billion defense spending bill also includes a 3.1% pay increase for members of the armed forces, provisions to address firefighting foam contamination around military bases, such as Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo and Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, as well as $63.7 million for military construction projects in New Mexico and 12 weeks of paid parental leave for all workers across the federal government.

“This bill makes major investments to ensure our armed forces are equipped with the most modern technology so we can stay ahead of our adversaries,” said U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. “New Mexico is the center of excellence for small satellites and for directed-energy weapons, and this bill increases funding and streamlines authorities to bolster those missions.”

“This legislation brings significant new family leave benefits to the military and federal workforce in New Mexico as they play an indispensable role in keeping our country safe and growing our economy,” said U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

The national park designation is the part of the bill that has gotten the most attention locally. The change in designation could mean more resources and more staffing options for the 275-acre monument in the southeastern part of the state. It includes a land swap with White Sands Missile Range, a move Heinrich’s office said would simplify management, ensure invaluable cultural resources are protected better and provide new capabilities at the missile range and the new national park.

The missile range would also be affected in other ways by the legislation. The range would receive $5.8 million to build a solar, natural gas and battery system micro-grid to ensure uninterrupted power reliability.

Other defense projects in the bill include:

• $20 million for the construction of a climate-controlled storage and shipment facility at Holloman Air Force Base for military support equipment.

• $15.5 million for the construction of a Combat Rescue Helicopter Simulator Facility at Kirtland Air Force Base.

• $22.4 million for the construction of a UH-1 Replacement Facility at Kirtland to house new simulators used for training flight crew personnel.

The legislation would provide relief to communities and businesses affected by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances contamination in groundwater around Air Force bases in New Mexico and across the country.

The measure would require the Department of Defense to take precautionary action to prevent human exposure, including through agricultural products, provide alternative water or water treatment for contaminated agricultural water, and acquire contiguous property that is contaminated. The act would mandate that the Pentagon create a plan of action to clean up contaminated sites and take all necessary steps to prevent further risks to public health.

“This bill also makes major reforms to fix the military housing crisis and takes meaningful action on contamination at dairies outside Cannon Air Force Base,” Heinrich said. “These provisions, among many others, help New Mexico families, benefit our economy and further New Mexico’s strong position as a leader in national security for years to come.”

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