BRAC chairman questions Cannon AFB closure

Staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON — A letter from the military base closing commission chairman to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asks whether the Pentagon considered a plan that would keep Cannon Air Force Base open.

In the letter, Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission Chairman Anthony Principi asks whether Rumsfeld considered moving the assets assigned to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia to Cannon in eastern New Mexico.

“If so, what were the driving considerations not to do so?” Principi’s letter asks. Cannon “would appear to have ample space and facilities to accommodate any aircraft currently operating or planned for movement to Moody.”

Principi asks Rumsfeld for a response by July 18 in time for a public hearing on base closures.

The letter also questions a number of other base realignment decisions across the country.

“It is a clear sign that the BRAC staff came to Clovis and saw first hand how valuable an asset that Cannon Air Force Base, Melrose Bombing Range, and the air space in association with those two entities is to the Department of Defense … that this commission is a truly talented and independent commission. They have looked at all this information and said ‘why would you not consider an alternative scenario for this valuable, unreplaceable asset called Cannon Air Force Base,’” said Committee of Fifty member Randy Harris, who spoke on Cannon’s behalf at the Clovis BRAC hearing.

“I see it as a very positive sign that someone outside of this community thinks that closing Cannon is not a good idea,” Harris said.

Harris said he communicates with the BRAC staff and commissioners daily, submitting data and providing information.

“This is a scenario,” Harris said, “that their (BRAC) staff came up with.”

Cannon was one of several bases around the county targeted by the Pentagon to be closed. The Pentagon has estimated it would save $2.7 billion over two decades by closing Cannon, costing more than 2,700 jobs on base and another 2,000 positions off the base. The economic hit that Clovis would take is estimated at about $200 million a year, or one-third of the local economy.

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation along with state and local leaders in Clovis have argued intensely since the closure list was released in mid-May that Cannon has important military value to the U.S. and should remain open. They’ve also claimed that flawed data was used to justify its closure.

“It’s evident the BRAC commission is looking at scenarios that would positively affect Cannon Air Force Base,” said Chris Gallegos, spokesman for Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. “It could be very important depending on the Pentagon reaction to the letter.”

Gallegos said that if the BRAC commission is asking about it, “it’s evidence that the commission is looking at how the Pentagon came up with its BRAC list, and … perhaps they don’t want to follow the list completely. That could be good news for Cannon Air Force Base in the future.”

Principi’s letter asks whether Rumsfeld considered moving the Master Jet Base at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia to Moody. Many have complained that Oceana’s jet base is crowded and close to homes and businesses.

Cannon has ample space, Principi said, and could accommodate aircraft already at Moody or planes that might be moved there.

The idea of realigning Oceana was mentioned by Cannon representatives in informal discussions with the BRAC commission staff, said Hanson Scott, New Mexico’s director of military base planning and support.

The topic also came up in a Washington hearing a week after the May 13 announcement was made about the closures and realignments, he said.

Oceana is “a very busy place with severe, severe encroachment problems,” said Scott, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general. “When the Navy testified before the BRAC commission, one of the Navy staff was asked why they hadn’t proposed realignment of Oceana.”

But George W. Foresman, assistant to Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, said the problems with encroachment at Oceana were “common urban myth.”

In his letter, Principi identified additional bases the commission may recommend closing.

Specifically, why Marine Corps Recruit Depot and the Navy Broadway Complex, both in San Diego, and the U.S. Naval Shipyard at Pearl Harbor were not slated for closure.

It also questions the Pentagon’s decisions to downsize, rather than close, the Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine, Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, and Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.

CNJ staff writer Marlena Hartz contributed to this report.