Other viewpoints on Cannon closure

Editor’s note: Here are editorials published recently about Cannon Air Force Base and the Base Realignment and Closure process:

Clovis, Curry deserve assistance, support of entire state
From the Albuquerque Tribune
Albuquerque dodged a bullet Friday, but now it will have to close ranks with New Mexico’s Cannon Air Force Base — targeted in the cross hairs of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Upfront, the Albuquerque metropolitan area owes the tireless Kirtland Partnership Committee and the potent New Mexico Congressional delegation a debt of gratitude for making the case to maintain — and expand — Kirtland Air Force Base.

Those efforts paid huge dividends in the metro area. Kirtland avoided the closure hit list, and, just as important, has a chance to continue growing as one of the nation’s most diverse and vital military research installations.
The base is slated to receive an estimated 200 new jobs under the BRAC process, as other programs or military units are to be relocated here.

Most are likely related to Air Force research projects that will be consolidated at Kirtland’s Air Force Research Laboratory, the facility that focuses on two critical fields — directed energy (lasers) and space.

Increasingly it will make sense to consolidate compatible research and development functions at Kirtland, in concert with extensive Air Force and Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities already here. That includes the huge Sandia National Laboratories — the nation’s nuclear weapon engineering lab that has lead responsibility for ensuring the safety, reliability and security of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

To those who know and understand Kirtland, there never was any real question that it did not belong on the closure list. The base is vital to U.S. national security on many fronts. The Kirtland Partnership Committee and the state’s congressional delegation repeatedly drove home this point for the past 10 years to anyone in the Pentagon, the Air Force and Congress who would listen.

They did a great job. They can and should continue to make that case. But as the reality of the list takes hold, they also are left with a new mission. Partnering with the city of Albuquerque and the state, they should turn full attention to Cannon and Clovis, which were not so fortunate.

Close ranks they must, because saving Cannon will be difficult.

Unlike the process followed in 1995, this year’s BRAC process has little real wiggle room.

Certainly the instinct is to fight closure, especially given that Cannon has nearly 4,000 jobs, a $200 million payroll and an economic impact that reaches well beyond the confines of Curry County.

There are those who will say closure is inevitable. If so, they’ll argue, New Mexico should focus all its energies on meaningful economic mitigations for Clovis and eastern New Mexico.

The truth is, New Mexico should fight for all its might on Cannon’s behalf — while at the same time looking for nonmilitary opportunities that could help rural eastern New Mexico.

It’s a two-front war, a tough one to be sure. But it’s also one the state can win.

If New Mexico does triumph — by creating diversified economic opportunity left by the dust bowl of military uncertainty — Clovis can become a success story that would change the dry-up-and-blow-away paradigm that affects so many towns linked to base money.

In any event, Clovis and Curry County political leaders and citizens deserve all the assistance and support that Albuquerque and New Mexico can offer in adopting the best strategy for Cannon and then pursuing it vigorously.

Expanded airspace could prove key
From the Roswell Daily Record

Cannon Air Force Base is on the chopping block — but that doesn’t mean the base will close.

In the first round of base closings since 1995, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is recommending the closing of 180 military installation in the United States, including Cannon and 32 other major bases, over six years beginning in 2006.

Rumsfeld;s recommendation is only the first step in the process. Next, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission must approve or change Rumsfeld’s recommendation by Sept. 8.

In four previous rounds of closure, commissions have approved 85 percent of the Pentagon’s recommendations, but Anthony Principi, current commission chairman, has promised not to rubber-stamp Rumsfeld’s recommendation.

We hope the commission will recognize Cannon’s value and take it off the hit list, as happened in 1995 when Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque was recommended for closure.

Changes to the list of proposed closures and realignments must be made at the commission level; Congress and President Bush must give an up-or-down vote on the commission’s recommendation.

The commission’s list is supposed to be objective and nonpartisan, but politics inevitably plays a part. The system is much less political now than it was in 1967, when Walker Air Force Base in Roswell was closed.

It was widely believed — at least in Roswell — that Walker was closed because Chaves County had voted against then-Sen. Joe Montoya and President Lyndon Johnson, both Democrats, in previous elections.

Politics will be more favorable for Cannon, although politics plays less of a part — or at least a less-obvious part — than it did in 1967. Curry and Roosevelt counties both voted overwhelmingly for Bush in 2000 and 2004 and for Republican Sen. Pete Domenici in 2002. Democratic Rep. Tom Udall carried both counties in 2000, 2002 and 2004, but Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who is up for re-election in 2006, lost both to challenger Bill Redmond in 2000.

New Mexico’s congressional delegation — Domenici and Bingaman from the Senate and Udall and Republicans Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce from the House — have issued a joint statement opposing Cannon’s closing. Gov. Bill Richardson also has promised to fight it.

Domenici charged the Defense Department failed to follow the criteria set by Congress for base closings.

“Cannon provides tremendous military value because it is a modern, cost-effective base, with no encroachment and unrestricted airspace,” Domenici said in the statement.
One thing that might work in Cannon’s favor — and also makes us wonder about organization and communication within the Pentagon — is the New Mexico Training Range Initiative, which would expand airspace set aside for Air Force training operations near Cannon from 2,600 square miles to 3,300 square miles.

Public hearings on the initiative were held the first of the year. If the base was slated to be closed, why go to the expense and effort of pushing for more airspace? The Pentagon’s left hand apparently doesn’t know what its right hand is doing.

Indeed, the available airspace is one of the things Cannon has going for it. The initiative, if approved, would provide Cannon with all the airspace it could need and there is not likely to be any urban expansion in Clovis, Portales or any other place closer than Amarillo or Lubbock that could encroach upon the base’s airspace.

Another plus for Cannon is the year-round flying weather. Planes can fly in Clovis an average of 320 days a year.

The year-round flying weather and lack of encroachment on airspace weren’t enough to help Walker overcome the politics involved in closing that base. Cannon has some of the same advantages Walker had but also has support from politicians in both parties. We hope all that will be enough to keep the base open.