By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
The strategic team formed to help save Cannon Air Force Base from closure by the Pentagon came together Tuesday for the first time.
Comprised of local groups, state groups and three paid lobbying firms, the strategic team set up shop at Clovis Community College and began divvying up responsibilities.
“That group and members of that group will be working together over the next several days as well as the next several weeks to finalize the presentation to the (Base Realignment and Closure) commission on June 24,” said Randy Harris, a prominent member of the Committee of Fifty group that acts as a base advocate.
Cannon appeared on the Pentagon’s closure list May 13, and since then community leaders have vowed an intense and coordinated campaign to get it removed. BRAC commissioners are scheduled to visit the air base June 23 and meet with the community June 24 at a regional hearing.
Besides pooling knowledge and expertise, local advocates say the strategic group can bring together a wide variety of resources in the drive to save Cannon.
“They stayed on almost all day (Tuesday), and brainstormed,” said Ted Hartley, a member of the Committee of Fifty and a 9th Judicial District Judge. “This was the first time that all of them were able to exchange ideas and responsibilities. They each have resources that are different from the others.”
Historically, about 85 percent of bases slated for closure by the Pentagon are eventually closed. However, that hasn’t slowed down the efforts of community leaders, who believe the base has superior military value and is important to national security.
“It’s a tough road, but I think I see a lot of confidence here,” Hartley said.
The strategy meeting was attended by team members from the Clovis community, the New Mexico Office for Military Base Planning and Support, DLA Piper, Hyjek & Fix, Inc., Keystone and representatives from New Mexico’s legislative delegates.
“The strategy all along has been to review the data and information,” Harris said, “to be able to provide our analysis of their quantitative models, so we can show there is deviation from the criteria, and flaws in (the Pentagon’s) analysis.”
He said one of the difficulties the group faces is the information coming in about the Pentagon’s rationale for selecting Cannon has been spotty. However, Harris said it appears they chose bases for closure on a “quantity” basis, rather than “quality” basis. In other words, large facilities with large ranges were kept, and smaller bases like Cannon were chosen for closure or realignment.
“We are beginning to see pieces, but nowhere near the complete picture,” Harris said. He said other air bases may have larger training ranges, but many of those experience encroachment problems, unlike Cannon.
Harris said one facet of their argument will be to show the New Mexico Training Range Initiative — which officials say will grant planes from Cannon unfettered access to supersonic training air space — will greatly enhance the air base’s military value and the potential for training.
New Mexico’s delegates have said the Air Force did not consider the training range initiative in their analysis of Cannon, an oversight they hope to remedy when BRAC commissioners arrive for the regional hearing.