Language in land use study raises concerns

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Cannon Air Force Base 27th Special Operations Group Commander Col. Steven Kimball talks about the need for two-way communication as a component of the Joint Land Use Study during Monday’s meeting at the Clovis-Carver Public Library.

Kevin Wilson

Four-plus hours of meeting for the Cannon Air Force Base Joint Land Use Study revealed at least one bit of information — four-plus hours is not enough time to hammer out everything.

The technical and policy committees for the JLUS will meet again — chair Sid Strebeck said sometime in February — with meeting details and a draft copy of the plan posted at cannonafbjlus.org.

A few hours earlier, when the meeting started at the Clovis-Carver Public Library, Strebeck inadvertently foreshadowed the afternoon when he warned that, “Studies can go on forever. They can take a life of their own.”

The meeting was attended by 32 residents, though only a handful could stay the entire afternoon for the meeting. It had thinned down to a dozen two hours in, as many just left public comments on cards provided.

Project Manager Rudy Bauer said the comment period will run through 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The study, if its findings are eventually approved by the Curry County Commission, would provide what Bauer called a “toolbox” of policy recommendations to strike a balance between Cannon’s mission and property owner rights.

“We have recommendations,” Bauer said, “but Roosevelt and Curries counties could certainly do different things out of the study, or do none.”

The main arguments came from what County Attorney Steven Doerr called “the 800-pound gorilla everybody’s been dodging” — what concessions landowners surrounding the base would have to make on tall structures like wind turbines, and if there would be compensation in place should such structures be disallowed.

Air Force representatives wanted review, or at least two-way communication, on such structures.

“If there’s comment required while bulldozers are running … there’s pressure that could lead to a mistake,” said Col. Steven Kimball, commander of the 27th Special Operations Mission Support Group.

Curry County Commissioner Wendell Bostwick felt the threat of prolonged military reviews could scare off potential business partners, and somebody should bring a checkbook if they’re prepared to encroach on a farmer’s airspace.

“Why do they get coordination rights? They don’t own the property,” Bostwick said.

“They own the airspace,” Bauer replied.

“Not under 500 feet,” said Bostwick. “Not today.”

Kimball said he couldn’t commit to a specific comment timeframe or compensation structure because he didn’t have the authority to create Air Force policy at the meeting. But he could say two-way communication could help fix small problems that could be solved, for example, by moving something five feet prior to construction.

Matt Hamilton, Cannon’s community planner, said it’s good to have structures, because it prepares personnel for potential battle areas that would have similar structures. But the base needs to be in the loop, because each wind turbine causes the same radar traffic as a Boeing 747.

“You’re flying blind,” Hamilton said, “unless you know about every single structure.”

Committee member Hoyt Pattison said unclear language could have an impact on the Tres Amigas power grid project, and other consequences that aren’t known yet.

“We don’t want seeds planted in this document that will become regulations and ordinances,” Pattison said. “It could (happen) five or 10 years down the road with another commission or elected official. It needs to be in black and white.”

Roosevelt County Manager Charlene Hardin said the study had plenty of good information, but she didn’t like the specificity of the suggested timeline either. While Cannon Air Force Base is entirely in Curry County, Hardin noted that 99 percent of Melrose Bombing Range is in Roosevelt County.

“You talk about a toolbox,” Hardin said, “Our first tool may not be (Curry County’s) first tool.”

Walter Bradley of Dairy Farmers of America pointed out examples — including language and a recommended action timeline full of very specific items — of how the study could easily be misapplied as Department of Defense mandates for landowners near the base.

“I hear what you’re saying,” Bradley said, “but that’s not what the document says.”

Strebeck said every effort should be taken to remove any language that could be misconstrued.