E very new year is filled with anticipation of the
possibilities and fear of the unknown. Those
emotions are magnified for our eastern New Mexico communities as we step into 2005.
The futures of Cannon Air Force Base and a major water project likely will be decided by this time next year. The impact will be felt in our region for decades to come.
Cannon is home for more than 3,400 military and 660 civilian personnel. Its closing would devastate the region’s economy for years. Its expansion could extend and enlarge the recent business and home-building booms and provide impetus for a population explosion. The Ute Water Project would pipe water from Ute Lake near Tucumcari to communities throughout the region. The pipeline plan is needed, local officials say, because our underground water source, the Ogallala Aquifer, may be dry in less than 35 years. However, the pipeline won’t happen without major federal government funds — and the feds want to see a unified and committed community of taxpayers. Costs are expected to go beyond $310 million.
The fates of Cannon and the Ute project rest not in our hands but in those of officials in Washington and elsewhere. But for nearly seven decades and several generations of Curry and Roosevelt counties’ citizens, we’ve cared for Cannon and its airmen and their families and friends. As capitalists we understand its economic impact, sure, but more importantly as patriotic Americans we personally or instinctively know it is critical to take care of those who care for us — with their lives if need be. We have every reason to believe federal defense officials will recognize our collective efforts and decide it is in the military’s best interest to grow Cannon rather than close it.
The Department of Defense plans to announce its next round of military base closures by mid-year. The Pentagon hasn’t decided how many of the nation’s 425 major military installations will be closed, but it could hit 25 percent of them. A Base Realignment and Closure committee will be formed in March. The Secretary of Defense will submit his proposed BRAC list to Congress in mid-May.
Local Cannon supporters and lawmakers feel confident Cannon will survive the process.
“I will be thoroughly stunned if Cannon is identified on the BRAC list as a base set for closure,” Clovis Mayor David Lansford said. “There is no justifiable, logical reason to close Cannon with the training facilities we have, the air space, the community support, the lack of encroachment, the weather … just no justifiable reason.”
Lansford is among those who believe Cannon could expand because of BRAC.
“From what I understand, there are only winners and losers in the BRAC process; nobody staying the same,” he said. “That stands to reason. A lot of these missions, operations can’t be eliminated, they’re going to be consolidated … and there’s room for growth at Cannon.”
As Lansford pointed out, Curry and Roosevelt counties have been “BRAC-proofing Cannon for several decades. It’s been a way of life for Clovis and its people and Portales and its people to support the mission at Cannon and it has been for a long time.”
As for the water project, local decisions in the next few months will carry weight with whether Congress votes to pay the bulk of that price tag.
We support the Ute Pipeline concept, but this water issue has sure gotten muddy of late. The Quay County community of Logan recently dropped out of the project, leaving it with 11 public entities. And officials from Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties have been arguing among themselves about water reserves.
These disagreements must end before federal funding has a chance to be approved.
“We need commitments and agreements from every community (participating in the project) that basically say, ‘We want X amount of acre feet of water, we have a plan to pay for it and here’s a contract that says we’re committed,’ ” Lansford said.
“Nobody is going to loan money of this magnitude to communities that aren’t committed.”
If the project hasn’t come together a year from now, Lansford believes Clovis should start considering another plan: downsizing. In other words, admit that water will soon be in short supply, there is little hope for more, and the city cannot handle growth.
We don’t concede that’s the only option to consider, because no growth implies withering and dying at some point down the road. Success comes not from stagnation, but from fortitude, passion and commitment to overcoming risk with sound planning for how to turn dreams into realities.
We’ve said over the years that Cannon expansion and a long-term water supply are essential to our region’s future. Their importance to tomorrow will be largely decided in 2005.
Despite our fear of the unknown, we believe the possibilities of a rewarding 2005 will bear fruit in the coming months. After all, look what 2004 brought: a cycle of success primed to repeat itself, starting Saturday.
Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and Day, everyone.