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Base Closing: Black Friday for Clovis

By Miguel Navrot
Journal Staff Writer
      Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis is to be shut down under the Pentagon's closure and realignment plan released this morning, a move that would cost eastern New Mexico more than 2, 500 jobs.
    Members of the state's congressional delegation called the move "wrong-headed" and vowed to work together to save the base.
    Kirtland and Holloman Air Force bases and White Sands Missile Range also were picked for realignment, according to documents released this morning, but Kirtland would actually gain a mission under the plan.
    An unexpected New Mexico property picked for closure is the Jenkins Armed Forces Reserve Center in Albuquerque. However, the center and its 36 military and civilian employees, will simply move to Kirtland.
    Cannon is just one of two Air Force bases selected to close. The other is Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.
    Clovis, home to four F-16 Falcon fighter squadrons, is selected to lose 2,385 military employees and 384 civilians.
    Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., whose district includes Cannon, called the announcement "wrong-headed."
    "It would be an understatement to say that we are all surprised by the Pentagon's decision," Udall said.
    The delegation, state lawmakers and local communities will unite to battle the Pentagon's decision, Udall added. Gov. Bill Richardson announced release of $300,000 in state money to fight the Cannon closure.
    "This will be a bipartisan, coordinated effort," Udall said.
    In a joint news statement, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said he believes the Air Force and Defense Department "misapplied" its own criteria for assessing Cannon.
    "Cannon provides tremendous military value because it is a modern, cost-effective base with no encroachment and unrestricted airspace," Domenici said.
    Fellow Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said the delegation has "equally persuasive arguments" for saving Cannon as it did in the 1995 round to save Kirtland.
    "We will work just as hard to make the case to this BRAC commission," Bingaman said.
    Richardson said he fears the state "will face thousands of lost jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost economic activity."
    By September, the 15-member BRAC commission will review the Pentagon's long list of bases to shutter and report to the White House. President Bush will then have two weeks to review the list and pass it to Congress, which then has 45 legislative days to make its decision.
    Just before Christmas, New Mexico almost certainly know if the military presence here will shrink, grow or remain the same.
       In all, New Mexico would lose about 2,800 military and civilian employees under the plan.
    White Sands Missile Range would feel the second-deepest cuts of the state's defense properties. Nearly 180 employees, mostly civilians, are to be removed from the expansive range in southern New Mexico.
    Holloman would lose 17 military workers.
    Kirtland, which was initially picked to shrink in the closure round a decade ago, would see a net gain of 206 workers, 176 of them civilian.
    Closure of Cannon could significantly cut the economies of Clovis and nearby Portales. Cannon backers estimate the base accounts for one-third of the local economy, with an economic impact estimated at more than $200 million annually. The base sits seven miles west of Clovis.
    Cannon's host unit, the 27th Fighter Wing, had been proposing to increase supersonic flights in eastern New Mexico, mostly over DeBaca County. Base proponents, including New Mexico's two senators, had spent months lobbying decision-makers that the supersonic range would be an asset for the Air Force.
    Retired Brig. Gen. Hanson Scott, director of the state's military planning commission, said the news about Cannon is a letdown.
    "We're very disappointed," Scott said. "Cannon Air Force Base is a perfect fighter base, with all the advantages we've discussed."
    In a recent interview with the Journal, Clovis banker and Cannon advocate Randy Harris said the base had been through transitions before, although nothing this drastic.
    In the mid-1990s, as the Air Force retired its fleet of F-111 fighter jets, Cannon had temporarily lost airmen as the base became a home for F-16 fighter jets.
    Harris and other, weeks before today's announcement, spoke of potentially bringing in a second fighter wing to the base, saying it had excess hangar space already built.
    The Washington delegation has helped secure $53.4 million in construction projects for Cannon since fiscal 2000. Projects included refurbishment of 1,294 base homes and a total of $14.3 for runway improvements.
       White Sands is scheduled to lose offices of the Army Research Laboratory, said range spokesman Larry Furrow. The group, which accounts for about 180 jobs and another 62 contractors, conducts atmospheric and weather-related testing there and assists with other developmental tests.
    "It is, in my mind, a big deal," Furrow said. "They've been here a long time. We're very sorry to see them go and wish them well."
    White Sands' loss is just a small fraction of the 6,000 or so workers there.
    "It's gratifying to us that the Department of Defense affirmed our important roles in weapon testing," said Furrow.
  • BRAC Impact by State (PDF)