Nine supporters of Cannon Air Force Base spent 90 minutes Friday trying to convince Base Realignment and Closure commissioners to remove Cannon from a proposed closure list.
Most argued that Defense Department information was flawed and incomplete and emotions ran high with an audience of about 1,400 applauding the speakers on more than a dozen occasions.
“Cannon is the life blood of this community,” U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., told the six commissioners in attendance at Marshall Junior High School. “This is a poor state. You should know that. But we have not been poor in spirit when it comes to wanting to help the military of the United States.”
Commissioner James Hansen acknowledged the thousands of “Operation: Keep Cannon” signs and supporters he saw who lined the streets between the commissioners’ hotel and the school early on Friday morning.
Gov. Bill Richardson referred to the “human side” of a proposed base closing.
“You saw them waving their flags, welcoming you — thousands of patriotic Americans who have dedicated their lives to Cannon, strengthening its value to the military,” he told commissioners.
But Cannon’s promoters spent most of their time pointing out DoD information they believe is either incorrect or not weighted with enough importance.
Randy Harris, chairman of the Cannon support group Committee of Fifty’s Washington Committee, said DoD officials deviated from their own criteria in evaluating Cannon.
“They used a numerical scoring system that ignored non-replacable assets,” Harris argued. He tried to focus the commissioners’ attention on issues he said did not receive proper consideration by evaluators — encroachment, potential for supersonic airspace, quality of life for military personnel, economic impact of eastern New Mexico and alternative scenarios for future missions.
He reminded commissioners that some of them were in Cannon’s tower on Thursday and could see wide-open spaces for miles — “Farmland. No high rises. No churches. No schools,” he said.
He showed commissioners a graphic of what he called “near mid-air occurrences” at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona and told them private air traffic does not hinder Cannon pilots.
On several occasions Harris said Cannon averages 329 days of flying weather each year — “And that’s a 30-year history,” he said, that few other Air Force bases can match.
Commissioners thanked Cannon speakers for their presentations and asked a few questions but, as expected, did not indicate if they were swayed by any of the arguments.
Commissioner Philip Coyle asked if Cannon supporters knew why some information reported by DoD was alleged to be inaccurate — the number of hours the base is normally operational and why estimated cost savings went from $1.3 billion to $2.7 billion in separate DoD reports — but the Cannon contingent said they did not know the answers and would like helping find out.
Commissioner Lloyd Newton asked when a proposed “training range initiative” not considered by DoD could become a reality. Harris said local officials once thought it could happen later this year, but now believe it would not be approved until next June.
Commissioners were scheduled to hold a press conference early this afternoon.
At least five of the nine commissioners must agree before a base can be removed from the proposed closure list. Their recommendations to President Bush are due by Sept. 8.