Officials preparing for Cannon growth

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

The impact Cannon Air Force Base’s new mission will have on the local community is still unknown.

Everett Frost, vice chairman for the Local Growth Management Org-anization, said his group plans to use Defense Depart-ment funds to hire a consulting firm to study plans for Cannon and make projections in the hope of readying Clovis and Portales for the future.

“The assumption is that if you add the numbers that have been talked about there will be housing, infrastructure, public health, education, transportation and public safety needs,” he said. “These are all things that with the additional group of people coming in, the area needs to plan for.”

Frost said concerns exist with quality of life issues, like recreational facilities and opportunities for families in the region.

Details on personnel and arrival times aren’t firm because Cannon remains a fighter wing. When Air Force Special Operations Command takes over Cannon on Monday, plans for funding, troop and asset movements will become more clear, Frost said.

“The change of mission is the next important step and then when the new command is in position, we’ll start to learn more,” he said.

“We don’t have the kind of specifics at this time because the Air Force needs to change command (at Cannon) and the appropriations needs to work its way through.”

Frost said current estimates are based on an Environmental Impact Statement generated by the Air Force, which projects an influx of about 5,600 people at Cannon over the next few years.

The projected population is comparable to the number stationed at Cannon during the F-111 mission of the 1990s. In more recent years, Cannon has been home to more than 4,000 people.

Clovis Mayor David Lansford said Cannon’s population will temporarily drop as more personnel leave than arrive initially. Military projections indicate the dip will last through 2008.

“I think there’s a realization there’s going to be a dip for a time,” he said. “If we’re patient and persistent, things are going to work themselves out. The community is grateful for the fact we’ve received a new mission, we’re optimistic yet patient waiting for that mission to come to fruition.”

Frost said his group has learned the force structure of special operations tends to be populated more by non-commissioned officers and low-level officers, while the current structure at Cannon is inclined toward lower-level airmen and a few officers. Also, special operations personnel tend to transfer less often than fighter wing personnel.

That will play out in housing and education needs, he said.

Electricity, water and sewer planning must take place to support new construction. Also, the hospital at Cannon is not a full-service hospital and many military members will frequent local civilian medical facilities.

Lansford said it would take about 18 months to develop a plan once a consultant is hired.

The plan will look at “the whole scope of community life,” the mayor said.

Schools and housing are the predominant concerns, he said.

The Clovis area currently has about 400 homes on the market, compared to about 45 two years ago, Lansford said. But he sees the bright side: “If you’re going to move out one whole mission, you have to empty out the homes those people are living in before you can fill those homes.”

Frost said when the F-111 mission was being brought to Cannon the local communities worked with the Air Force to create additional housing in Clovis and Portales. The 801 housing developments, occupied by Cannon personnel and managed by the Air Force but located off base, are examples of cooperation.

“We want to coordinate with the Air Force and we want to cooperate. The Air Force doesn’t require us to do this; it’s in our self-interest to do this,” Frost said.

“This is something we would do anyway, this is just going to be a more sudden change than would normally occur in community planning.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report