Area ranchers resist airspace expansion

Mike Linn

Cannon Air Force Base officials met resistance from a handful of area residents on Monday night at a meeting scheduled to discuss proposed expansions to military airspace.
The residents were worried the proposed changes would devalue their land; create increased noise over their ranches; allow for debris from flares and chaffs to land on their property; and create anxiety among their livestock.
Cannon officials said the input from the scoping meeting at Eastern New Mexico University’s Becky Sharp Auditorium was important and will be included in an environmental impact study. Cannon officials hope to present the assessment to Congress in the fall of 2005.
Roughly 50 area residents, many of them ranchers, showed up to listen to briefings from Cannon and environmental officials. None were more outspoken and opposed to the changes than A.S. Elliott, a rancher who owns about 28,000 acres 18 miles southwest of Fort Sumner.
Elliott expressed his concerns over a myriad of issues that have caused him displeasure with Cannon over the years, from the frequency of super sonic booms over his land to Air Force pilots he claims frequently fly below mandated altitudes.
Much of his diatribe focused on issues related to an Air Force plane crash on his land in December of 2002.
“The U.S. Air Force has condemned our property,” Elliott said. “I’ve had to change my plans to remedy what Cannon has done over my land.”
Col. Tip Wight, Cannon’s operations group commander, didn’t comment on Elliott’s claims specifically, but claimed to be adamant about following Air Force guidelines.
“If my folks violate that (flying below altitude regulations) then they have to deal me,” Wight said. “If there is ever a claim we investigate that thoroughly.”
Wight added that the focus of the proposed Training Range Initiative is at the medium to high-altitude levels, which would allow for less problems for ranchers than in the past when military training was often conducted at low altitudes.
Still, several ranchers spoke up against the initiative.
Jeff Essary, who owns a ranch five miles west of Floyd and one a mile south of Melrose Bombing Range, fears loss in property value to both ranches.
“Nobody is going to want to live in a place with all that additional noise,” Essary said.
Essary said turbulence from Cannon aircraft destroyed one of his father’s windmills.
Don Bennett, who owns a ranch three miles from Melrose Bombing Range, said he sees the proposed expansion as encroachment on his property.
“I don’t come and play in your back yard,” he told Cannon officials.
Other proposed changes will allow for pilots to travel at supersonic speeds at lower altitudes, which calls for the possibility of sonic booms, thunderous thuds or claps caused by certain plane accelerations and maneuvers.
Cannon officials said damage to property from sonic booms is extremely rare. They encouraged area residents to submit concerns and questions about the proposals to Cannon.
The proposed boundary increases to the east would stretch military airspace about 10 miles closer to Portales, or about five miles west of Floyd. Similar boundary increases are proposed to the western edge of the training area, roughly 20 miles into Lincoln County.
Officials at Monday’s meeting to discuss proposed expansions to military airspace around Cannon Air Force Base said they encourage questions and concerns about the project. For information, contact:

Brenda Cook
129 Andrews Street
Suite 102
Langley Air Force Base, Va. 23665-2769

Cannon Air Force Base
Lt. Jennifer Geesling
110 E. Sextant Ave.
Suite 1098A
Cannon AFB 88103
Phone: 784-4131