Congress OKs Cannon construction funding

The Associated PRess

Congress on Friday agreed to language that ensures construction projects continue at Cannon Air Force Base as the Pentagon seeks a new mission for the eastern New Mexico installation.

In May, the Pentagon proposed to close the base near Clovis. However, in August the Base Realignment and Closure Commission directed the Defense Department to keep Cannon open temporarily under what’s known as an enclave. Cannon’s three F-16 squadrons will be moved, and the base would close if a new mission can’t be found by Dec. 31, 2009.

That would cost as many as 4,700 jobs on and off the base.
House-Senate negotiators accepted language proposed by Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to make sure previously authorized construction goes ahead while the Pentagon seeks a new mission for the base.

The language was part of 2006 military construction and veterans affairs appropriations finalized by a House-Senate conference committee.

The legislation, subsequently approved by the House and Senate, includes $13.2 million for Cannon to build a modern fuel storage and distribution system and renovate facilities dating from the 1960s to safely unload commercial fuel delivery trucks.

The bill now goes to President Bush.

“We just think this is great news,” said Clovis businessman Chad Lydick, a member of the Committee of 50 which has pushed to keep Cannon open. Lydick belongs to a team that keeps in contact with Air Force leaders, the congressional delegation and others in the effort to find another mission.
“Certain projects are going to be necessary, regardless of what that new mission is going to be,” Lydick said.

Without the language that addressed Cannon’s status as an enclave, funding would not have been obligated for bases and programs closed or realigned during this year’s BRAC process.

In the 2005 fiscal year, Congress approved $9.5 million to build an airmen’s center at Cannon, including a dining hall, postal center, a laundry exchange and other facilities. The previous year, it approved $7.7 million for an Aerospace Ground Equipment complex plus $1.3 million to install a permanent lighting system on a runway.

Domenici said military construction at Cannon should be allowed to go forward as another mission is sought.
“These new missions may very well need and rely on projects like the fuel storage,” he said.

Bingaman said the project will prepare the base for a new assignment.

“In order to attract the right mission for the military, and for the community, we must ensure that Cannon is in top shape,” he said.

The bill overall allocates $34.8 million for military construction at Cannon, Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo and Kirtland Air Force Base at Albuquerque.

Holloman will get $15 million for a new fire station and improvements at existing fire stations, while Kirtland will get $6.6 million for its HC-130P Simulator for training for a large cargo plane for search and rescue operations.