State, community leaders focus on defending Cannon

By Mary Perea: The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation say they will arm themselves with data and lead the charge to save Cannon Air Force Base from closing.
Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., said the staffs of the congressional delegation have worked with all the bases, but now it’s time to focus their efforts on the Clovis base.
Cannon is the only New Mexico base proposed by the Defense Department for closure, and one of only two Air Force bases nationwide being closed. The other is in Ellsworth, S.D.
The complete data used for the department’s recommendations of base closures and realignments will be released Monday morning, Wilson said.
“The first step is to crunch all the numbers in the analysis and see where they made their mistakes and put the best case together for keeping Cannon,” she said.
Wilson said she expects one big discrepancy to be that the planned expansion of a supersonic training range was not taken into consideration.
The Air Force has been working to expand the training range around Cannon by 700 miles and allow pilots to fly lower at supersonic speeds.
A Cannon official said the base’s expansion plans will continue apart from the Pentagon’s recommendation to close the base.
The Pentagon recommendations are the first step in the base realignment process. A nine-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission appointed by President Bush will analyze the list and hold hearings before turning in a final report by Sept. 8.
With five votes, the commission can remove a base from the closure list.
Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Pete Domenici, R-N.M. and Reps. Steve Pearce R-N.M., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., met Friday to map out a plan. Wilson and Gov. Bill Richardson participated by phone.
Udall sent a letter to community leaders assuring his full attention to the matter, which he called “an enormous mistake.”
Those fighting to save Cannon “will systemically and relentlessly chip away and dismantle the Department of Defense’s analysis — or lack thereof — with regard to their shortsighted recommendation,” Udall wrote.
Udall and Domenici said Cannon’s unrestricted airspace is a point in its favor.
“I am committed to working with the delegation, state and local leaders to ensure that data on Cannon is thoroughly analyzed and presented to the commission,” Domenici said. “I believe Cannon has a compelling case.”