Local officials confident Cannon Air Force base will stay open

Staff and Wire Reports

Criteria set to help determine which military bases will close after 2005 was made public on Monday, and local officials expressed confidence Cannon Air Force Base will remain open.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said he believes New Mexico bases are positioned ‘‘to not only stay off the closure list, but to possibly gain new missions.’’
The Department of Defense will publish its criteria today, but U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson on Monday sent information to Kirtland Air Force Base supporters and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who heads the New Mexico Military Base Planning Commission.
The criteria was then made public via The Associated Press.
The draft plan noted the most important considerations would be current and future mission capabilities; availability and condition of land, facilities and associated airspace; ability to accommodate future total force requirements; and the cost of operations and manpower implications.
“Everything I saw in the draft looks to highlight the strengths of Cannon,” said Randy Harris, a Clovis banker who’s also a member of the area’s Committee of 50, which lobbies lawmakers for Cannon projects. “It looked very promising.
“They put a lot of work into establishing that criteria, but we as well have put a lot of work into making sure that Cannon meets the future needs of the Air Force.”
Under legislation passed last year, the Pentagon is required by May 2005 to present a list of bases it recommends to be closed or realigned. Members of Congress traditionally fight to spare their states and communities the economic disruption of closures.
Criteria established during the first round of base closures in the 1990s will apply to the second round, according to the Pentagon’s draft plan. Federal law specifies that military value should be the primary consideration for making closure and realignment recommendations.
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega had not seen the criteria as of Monday evening, but noted the importance Cannon has on the economy of its neighboring cities.
“Just considering the personnel and the families that support the personnel, it’s a tremendous positive impact in not only Portales but Clovis as well,” Ortega said. “It really affects the communities in a positive way.”
Wilson, whose district includes Kirtland, sought their comment on the proposed criteria before she submits her own comments. She said if bases are to be closed, ‘‘we must do everything we can to protect New Mexico’s contribution to our national defense.’’
Comments to the Department of Defense are due by Jan. 28. The secretary of defense must publish its final criteria by Feb. 16.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said the criteria match the strengths of New Mexico’s installations.
‘‘Our bases fare very well in each of these areas, and I am confident we can show the commission that New Mexico adds real military value to the Department of Defense,’’ he said.
Pentagon officials said in October it will take a creative approach to shrinking its military bases, but did not set targets for the number to be closed. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said studies show a 20 percent to 25 percent surplus in base capacity.
Denish said earlier this month she’s optimistic the state will show the federal government enough evidence and incentives to keep all of New Mexico’s military bases open.
The 15-member planning commission she heads already has met with Pentagon and congressional officials in Washington to defend Kirtland, Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo, Cannon Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range between Alamogordo and Las Cruces.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.