ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Kirtland Air Force Base was in need of infrastructure improvements back in 1988, a small group of local business leaders formed the ad hoc Support Kirtland Committee and successfully lobbied Congress for the needed funding.
Ever since then, that committee’s successor – the Kirtland Partnership Committee – has worked to ensure that the sprawling base, where nearly 21,000 people work, not only survives, but grows.
The base had a local economic impact of $7.6 billion in fiscal year 2014, according to base officials.
“Since its inception in 1996, the Kirtland Partnership Committee has been an important advocate for the missions at Kirtland Air Force Base,” said Col. Eric Froelich, commander of Kirtland’s host unit, the 377th Air Base Wing. “We value the KPC for their many substantive contributions to the missions at Kirtland, to include acting as a liaison with state, county and city government.”
Targeted by BRAC
The original ad hoc committee’s work grew even more important with the passage of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990, which established a process that allows the Department of Defense to “realign” or close military bases to increase efficiencies and improve operational readiness.
BRAC, as the process has become known, sets up a presidentially appointed commission to review the Defense Department’s recommendations. The commission then sends its recommendation to the president for review and approval. It’s then up to Congress to determine which, if any, of the BRAC recommendations are implemented.
BRACs have been conducted in 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005 – only one of which directly targeted Kirtland for cuts. The 1993 BRAC led to the closure of Fort Wingate, a former conventional weapons storage facility near Gallup. The 2005 BRAC targeted Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis for closure, but the base acquired a new mission and has since expanded.
In 1995, the Defense Department recommended Kirtland for “realignment” – a move estimated to cost Kirtland 6,850 jobs.
Another ad hoc group, the Kirtland Retention Task Force, headed by retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Leo Marquez, successfully fended off any changes at Kirtland by showing the Defense Department’s estimated cost savings were greatly inflated.
The task force, which raised about $250,000 to fight the proposal, used the slogan “Keep Albuquerque’s Fantastic Base (KAFB).”
“The (1995) BRAC Commission held a hearing here because this task force had the smarts to know it needed to be in Albuquerque,” said Stuart Purviance, the KPC’s executive director. “That meant the people from Colorado, Arizona and Utah had to come here for the hearing. New Mexico’s entire congressional delegation was there,” which gave the state an edge in staving off any proposed cuts.
When the dust settled, Kirtland emerged virtually unscathed, and actually expanded after that BRAC round.
Fuel leak cleanup
The task force incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in February 1996 and adopted its current name – the Kirtland Partnership Committee.
Sherman McCorkle, vice chairman of the organization’s board of directors, said there is likely to be another BRAC round under the next presidential term, and that it will likely focus on closure of non-critical military bases rather than realignment.
“Our mission hasn’t changed much over the years,” McCorkle said. “It’s to support, preserve and grow Kirtland.”
Today, the KPC – comprised of key business and civic leaders – works to promote the base and protect it from downsizing or closure. About two-thirds of the partnership’s $100,000-plus annual budget comes from corporate donations, according to McCorkle.
Currently, the KPC is involved in efforts to ensure the cleanup of a decades-old fuel spill that originated at a bulk fuels storage facility at Kirtland. Base officials didn’t discover the fuel leak – estimated at between 6 million and 24 million gallons – until 1999. Because the underground fuel plume had migrated off base and toward some city drinking water wells, efforts to remove the contaminants have been ongoing. To date, none of the city’s wells have been affected.
“We have been at every public meeting on the fuel leak except one,” Purviance said. “We’ve been deeply involved with the base, the contractor, the Albuquerque Bernalillo Water Utility Authority” and the state Environment Department in addressing the problem.
McCorkle said the KPC was instrumental in the Air Force’s hiring of environmental consultant Kathryn Lynnes as the primary manager of the fuel spill cleanup. The Air Force also brought in Albuquerque native Adria Bodour as its lead scientist. So far, the clean-up effort has cost more than $100 million, and could cost another $125 million before the work is complete, officials have said.
McCorkle said the greatest need facing the KPC is for young business leaders to get involved and support its efforts.
“The average age of our board of directors is getting up there,” he said. “We really need more young business leaders – men and women – willing to volunteer their time for an extended period to continue KPC’s mission.”
For more information on the KPC, visit its website at www.kpc.nm.org.