Cannon plans in holding pattern

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A Clovis-Portales team envisioned last August to plan for a possible expansion at Cannon Air Force Base has lain dormant.

Since a group of Clovis and Portales city and county representatives agreed to form the team nearly a year ago, the team has done little, besides attend a base realignment workshop in San Antonio, Texas, according to local government officials.

“It is premature for us to begin evaluating for a change until we know what that change is,” said Clovis Mayor David Lansford, who proposed forming the planning team last August.

Secretary of Air Force Public Affairs Shirley Curry wrote in a May e-mail to the Clovis News Journal that the Secretary of Defense remains committed to make a decision on Cannon AFB by summer 2006.

Questions about how eastern New Mexico would handle an influx of military personnel should Cannon Air Force Base grow have gone largely unanswered, according to local officials. Those questions are difficult to address when Cannon’s fate is foggy, officials said.

The idea of preparing for an expansion at Cannon stalled when a federal commission deemed Cannon an enclave, promising its jets to various installations across the country and requesting the Department of Defense find a new mission for the base or close it by 2010.

“The committee has not moved forward because of the enclave status,” said County Commissioner Tim Ashley, who was appointed by his fellow commissioners to serve on the Cannon planning committee.

Ashley believes the region’s infrastructure could withstand some growth. But he said an influx of more than 8,000 military personnel could strain the region’s roads, schools and real estate.

City commissioners have discussed different Cannon scenarios, including how an expansion — or reduction — in military manpower at the base would impact the region.

Yet, City Manager Joe Thomas underscored, it seems futile to plan when tethered by uncertainties about what mission would come to Cannon, officials stressed.

“It is not fair to ask how you will you react to something when you don’t know what you will be reacting to,” Thomas said.

If the population of Cannon ballooned in six months or a year, it would “be problematic,” Thomas said. But if growth was gradual, or officials had 18 months to three years to plan for growth, potential problems, such as bottlenecked traffic or lack of housing, could be mitigated.

For Clovis Municipal Schools, handling an expansion at Cannon hinges on money, according to the Director of Federal Programs and Public Relations David Briseno.
“The bottom line is we would need more money,” Briseno said.

There may not be enough room for more students, depending upon which school zone military parents would settle in, he said. Additional staff members would need to be hired if more students entered the Clovis school system, he said.

Because New Mexico schools are funded each year based on the previous year’s student population, a sudden bloom in registration could easily leave Clovis schools overburdened, Briseno said. Unless the state stepped in to beef up the budget.

New Mexico Public Education Department officials have been made “aware of the dilemma,” Briseno said.

But, like city and county officials, the CMS administrative cabinet has been conservative, putting a cap on discussions of “something that may or may not happen,” Briseno said.