Fate of Cannon in limbo afer Thursday deliberations

Felicia Fonseca: The Associated Press

As suspense built with each passing hour, the fate of Cannon Air Force Base remained in limbo Thursday while residents held out anxious hope that their months-long wait would soon end in celebration.

“I think everyone is pretty optimistic, but we all know Uncle Sam does things in mysterious ways,” said Don Clark, 68, who works at a local auto parts store.

Many had supposed the federal base closing commission would vote Thursday on whether to abide by a Pentagon decision to close Cannon — or reverse course and save the base.

But the panel got caught up in discussions on other items on its lengthy agenda, and decided to hold off until today to cast a vote on Cannon.

“We had hoped that the news would come today, but one more night with BRAC on our minds,” said Stacey Martin, president of the Clovis-Curry Chamber of Commerce. “Another sleepless night in Clovis.”

At stake are nearly 2,800 jobs on the base and as many as 2,000 more related jobs in the community. By some estimates, Cannon represents a third of the local economy in the community along the eastern edge of New Mexico.

Clovis Mayor David Lansford, along with Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega, were among locals keeping a close eye on their televisions throughout the day.

Lansford awoke Thursday to a call from an elderly lady who just wanted to talk about Cannon. Ortega said he awoke with a “really good feeling” Cannon will still call the region home.

“Everybody’s a little nervous, but again I feel very optimistic,” Ortega said.

Lansford, too, held out hope but his feelings were a little more mixed.

“I don’t know quite how to engage it,” he said. “Nothing’s final until the action has been taken.”

Both mayors, along with a swarm of New Mexico political leaders, have spent the last three months arguing that Cannon contributes great value to the military. Supporters claim the Pentagon overlooked some of Cannon’s attributes and didn’t take into account the fact the Air Force has been working to expand the training range around Cannon.

“The same characteristics it has today — those same characteristics will stand the test of time and will continue to be an asset to the military,” Lansford said.

Local officials also were keeping a close eye on how the commission voted on other matters. They say what they’ve seen in two days of hearings so far appeared fair.

Some residents pointed out that commissioners’ votes are just the next step. Their recommendations will be to President Bush on Sept. 8. He can either accept that list or reject it, but only in its entirety.

The fear the community might have to fight for Cannon again in the future stays with Clovis resident Diann Eshleman.

She said if more aircraft are not brought in to expand Cannon, she would rather see it closed.

“If it’s just a temporary fix, it’s not a plus,” she said.
“Operation Keep Cannon” banners, a staple of the city’s landscape for weeks, remain prominently displayed around town. Martin said the community has turned over every stone to convince the commissioners the base should be spared.

“Good news or bad news, (Clovis and Portales) will sleep good that night knowing they did everything under the sun,” he said.

The expected vote today will coincide with the community’s annual appreciation for the military personnel stationed at the base.

“As long as the Air Force base is out there, the community will continue to host that event to thank these men and women for what they do for their community,” Martin said.