Local officials ready to assist Air Force Special Ops, adapt to changes

Ronnie Birdsong, vice president for Student Affairs at Eastern New Mexico University, speaks Tuesday in the public comment portion of the Air Force public hearing. The meeting was held at Clovis Community College. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Eastern New Mexico civic leaders expressed support Tuesday for proposed tenants of Cannon Air Force Base – the Air Force Special Operations Command.

Leaders commented in a public hearing held at Clovis Community College. The Air Force hosted the meeting to gather input on the environmental impact of the new mission. Only seven people, mostly officials, commented, but dozens attended the hearing.

“Please let us know what we can do to assist you in this important time in New Mexico’s history,” Dennis Lopez of the Roosevelt County Commission told AFSOC officials Tuesday.

AFSOC has proposed moving approximately 100 aircraft and 5,680 airmen to Cannon by 2010 and would assume ownership of Cannon in October.

Beddown of the new mission could take six years and would involve construction of facilities to support larger aircraft, according to AFSOC Col. J.D. Clem, who spoke at Tuesday’s hearing.

Training would be held mostly at night and flights would be done at low-levels, Clem said. Noise levels should decrease with the new mission, which would bring MC-130s, AC-130s, CV-22s, unmanned aerial vehicles and small airlift aircraft to Cannon, AFSOC contractor Bob Van Tassel said.

“The citizens and leaders of Clovis understand that there will be changes,” Clovis Mayor David Lansford said. “They look forward to the opportunity to adapt…”
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega said AFSOC could avail of city resources, such as the fire department.

By law, AFSOC must consider environmental consequences of their proposed actions and gather public input on actions before moving any assets to Cannon.

The Air Force released its draft environmental impact statement on the new mission in March and will accept public comments on the draft until May 14. Comments will be incorporated into the final environmental impact statement, which Air Force officials will use to make a final decision about whether to establish the Air Force 16th Special Operations Wing at Cannon.

Several scenarios for Cannon and Melrose Bombing Range are proposed in the draft, including no action scenarios, Van Tassel said.

The draft includes two scenarios for Cannon: A west flightline or an east and west airfield.

Under the west flightline scenario, most new facilities for housing and maintenance of AFSOC aircraft would be constructed in the existing mission support area and construction would occur in 342 acres of already disturbed area, according to the draft.

Under the east and west airfield scenario, facilities would be renovated and constructed on the north side of the runway and new facilities for large aircraft would be constructed on the south side of the runway, the draft reads. This scenario involves building on 284 acres of grassland, but no construction would occur outside the existing property limits of the base, according to the draft.

Two scenarios for operations at Melrose are also proposed: Two targets or three-targets for live fire training. At least two targets are needed for live-fire training. Training requirements would be better met with three-targets, in the event one target is disabled, the report reads. Both scenarios would shrink the amount of acres available for ranchers to lease for grazing by thousands. Currently, 8,800 acres at Melrose Bombing Range are used exclusively by the military. Under the two target scenario, 16,613 acres would be used exclusively by the military. Under the three target scenario, 23,275 acres would be used exclusively.

The range is comprised of 60,010 acres.

Meetings watch
Written comments for inclusion in the final environmental impact
statement may be sent to Carl Hoffman, HQ AFSOC/A7PP, 427 Cody Avenue, Suite 303, Hurlburt Field, FL 32544-5434. Comments must be sent by May 14, 2007.

A copy of the environmental impact statement is available at the following public libraries:
Clovis-Carver, 701 N. Main; Portales, 218 S. Avenue B; Albert W. Thompson Memorial, 17 Chesnut Street, Clayton; Fort Sumner, 235 W. Sumner Avenue; and New Mexico State, 1209 Camino Carlos Rey.

Public hearings on the environmental impact statement will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. today at the Fort Sumner Community House, 137 E. Baker Ave., in Fort Sumner.

Another hearing will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the Clayton High School Auditorium, 323 S. Fifth St., Clayton.