By Thomas Garcia: Freedom New Mexico
News that the Melrose Bombing Range is a go for expansion was hailed Tuesday by local officials as a positive for Cannon Air Force Base and eastern New Mexico.
Gov. Bill Richardson announced a waiver from Defense officials late Monday which approved the state’s gift of $5 million in capital outlay money to the Air Force for bombing range expansion.
Tuesday, local leaders involved in the months-long fight to keep Cannon open said in the long term the move means longevity and a solid future for Cannon Air Force Base.
Randy Harris, president of the Bank of Clovis and chairman of the Committee of Fifty’s Washington Committee, said expansion of base over the next few years will provide new jobs in the region. He said it will bring new students to local schools and lead to new construction.
“There is not another expansion like this taking place in other area,” Harris said. “We may never have another opportunity to expand the range like today.”
Harris noted the approval comes in the midst of Richardson freezing millions in capital outlay money across the state, placing many projects on hold.
“It is good news,” said Brig. Gen. Hanson Scott, who retired from the Air Force. “This is another good step forward in the process to enhance Cannons military capability.”
Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas noted the significant relationship between Cannon and the city.
“I think it will have a beneficial impact on the base,” Thomas said “Anything that helps the base in turns helps the city of Clovis.”
Roosevelt County Commission Chairman David Sanders said the expansion should not take up that much land and will not affect Roosevelt County.
“The intent of expanding the bombing range is to further secure an asset available to the air base for many years to come,” said Chase Gentry , executive director Clovis Industrial Development Corp.
Gentry said the expansion will improve the viability of the base in the future.
“Originally the $5 million was to be used for infrastructure improvements at the base,” Gentry said. “The Governor and the state decided the best use of the money for the residents in Curry and Roosevelt County was the expansion of the bombing range.
“The increase of personnel at the base will mean an increase in commerce and revenue for the area,” Gentry said.
The 66,000-acre bombing range is located 25 miles west of Cannon near Melrose and is used in special operations training by Cannon and other air bases.