County commissioners back Cannon low-altitude training

Courtesy illustration The proposed low altitude training area covers about 94,000 acres of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

Sharna Johnson

Assuring property owners’ rights would not be encumbered and the future of wind energy in the region will not be jeopardized, Curry County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution supporting low altitude training efforts by Cannon Air Force Base on Tuesday.

Commissioner Caleb Chandler proposed the resolution in support of a Low Altitude Tactical Navigation (LATN) plan.

The training would take place in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

Chandler commended Cannon for duties they perform and stressed the need for training to aid them in special operations combat missions.

“I think the very least we can do is support their (training),” he said, reminding that Clovis and Curry County vowed support of Cannon’s mission during the BRAC process when the base faced closure.

“I think it’s unfortunate that some people in our state have not taken a (positive position) in regards to that training.”

Within a proposed 94,000-square-mile area, Cannon would train its MC-130 and CV-22 crews. The training would include three flights, or sorties, a day at 200 feet and higher.

Chandler said aviation regulations preventing flight within 500 feet of people or structures would still be in effect.

The Taos, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba county commissions, along with the city councils of Las Vegas and Taos, have passed resolutions opposing the plan. Additionally, the Peaceful Skies Coalition has formed in opposition to the proposal.

The San Juan County and Colfax County commissions have passed resolutions in support of the proposal.

“I’m going to support this but I’ve been a victim of this low-level flying myself,” said Commissioner Frank Blackburn.

Blackburn said a low-flying B-1 en route to Dyess Air Force Base once startled his cattle, causing them to ruin fence panels and injure themselves.

“Let’s don’t call these people rabble-rousers … There is a legitimate concern,” he said in defense of those who have opposed the training plan.

Grady resident Jerry Powell said landowners are supportive of Cannon’s needs but want assurance that if passed, the training plan will not prevent building wind turbines or other structures within that 200 foot ceiling.

“We’re proud of them and we want to support them,” he said, explaining the value of Cannon to the local area is unquestioned but the potential economic benefit of wind energy can’t be underestimated.

“The landowners want to be assured this will not be hindered in any way … We want to be sure that it does not infringe on our rights to develop wind energy,” he said.

After hearing from a handful of like-minded residents, at the urging of Blackburn, commissioners voted to add language to the resolution that support was contingent on the understanding the plan “will not affect the development of wind energy in Curry County.”

Chairman Bobby Sandoval reminded those present the resolution was only a symbolic show of support and not law.

“I’d like to assure the public that this commission, while we’re still in office, if anything were to come up that would harm the public, we would do something about it,” he said.

“It’s just a resolution. I don’t know how else to say it.”

Cannon officials have said the Air Force can fly at 500 feet over most the area already according to Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

They have also said aircraft will spend 90 percent of the time between 400 to 600 feet or higher and only 10 percent of the time at 200 feet.

In other business, commissioners:

• Approved a consent agenda that included: The sale of 150 plastic folding chairs to Joe’s Boot Shop for $150; a memorandum of understanding between the county and Southwest Cheese for the cheese plant to purchase two flashing LED stop signs to be placed at Curry Roads K and Four.

• Gave notice of intent to adopt a new county personnel policy. The policy will be introduced at a Dec. 7 meeting.

• Approved a housekeeping and sanitation policy for jail employees. “This is to ensure the place is kept clean. This will reduce infestations of rodents, any bugs or anything so we can keep the place clean,” Administrator Keith Norwood told commissioners.

• Heard a report on the jail. Norwood said all staff positions are filled and as of Nov. 10, the inmate population was 287, with 56 housed out of county or on alternative release programs.

Norwood said he recently moved maximum security inmates and those with medical and mental special needs into a pod in an effort to address limited maximum security segregation cells and special needs accommodations.

• Heard a financial report from Events Center Manager Kevin Jolley for the month of August. Jolley said the fair was a large success and put the events center ahead of budget almost $5,500, bringing the center ahead of projections nearly $10,000 for the year.

• Heard a report from County Manager Lance Pyle that he is in the process of renegotiating inmate housing contracts with Bailey and Parmer counties and has placed a call seeking information from Guadalupe County detention management as per the request of Commissioner Dan Stoddard.