Bombing range lease signing ceremony Wednesday

Freedom New Mexico

A signing ceremony is set for Wednesday in Santa Fe to pave the way for an expansion of the Melrose Air Force Range.

A two-part process will lease about 11,000 acres of state trust land in Roosevelt County to the U.S. Air Force. The range currently includes about 66,000 acres in northwestern Roosevelt County.

Officials scheduled to attend the signing ceremony at the state land office include Gov. Susana Martinez, Land Commissioner Ray Powell, and Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Terry Yonkers, along with state legislators and officials from Curry and Roosevelt counties.

The ceremony will happen in two stages. Powell will lease the state trust land to the state, then Martinez will assign the lease to the U.S. Air Force. The land office is a separate entity from state government and is tasked with using those lands to generate money for schools and other various beneficiaries.

Under the lease arrangement, $2.7 million will go immediately towards its beneficiaries — the state’s public schools and the Interstate Stream Commission. Had the land been sold, officials with Martinez’ office said, the money would go into the state land grant permanent fund, and the beneficiaries would receive 5.3 percent of that amount per year.

The lease will help carry out a land gift offer from the State of New Mexico to the Air Force, which was contingent upon Cannon Air Force Base receiving a new mission after it was put into enclave status by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process. The base later received a mission from Air Force Special Operations Command.

The lease is for 74 years.

The range is a separate entity of the Air Force, and is used by Cannon and other bases for training purposes. If Cannon is closed through another BRAC round, language in the lease agreement would revert the land back to its original owners.