Year in review: Sheriff picked, base saved

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Editor’s Note — The following is the second in a three-part series taking a look at major stories that shaped news in Roosevelt County in 2006. This installment looks at May, June, July and August.

A story that idled the economies of Portales and Clovis and kept eastern New Mexico residents in suspense for more than a year came to a resolution in June as the Pentagon announced Cannon Air Force Base would be saved as a military base.

Meanwhile immigration-reform activists took to the streets of Portales, a Hooker was elected sheriff and the city of Portales received national acknowledgment for its quality of life despite a continuing smell from its sewer system.

On June 20 the New Mexico legislative delegation announced the Pentagon would keep CAFB open and it would become the home of the 16th Wing of Air Force Special Operations. Lawmakers said that decision would likely result in the base growing instead of being shuttered completely.

The base was placed on the Base Realignment and Closure list in May 2005, but a last-ditch effort by lawmakers, lobbyists and community leaders resulted in Cannon being placed in enclave status while the Pentagon explored possible new missions for it.

The announcement culminated a continuing effort by a grassroots campaign called Operation Keep Cannon. It involved governments and residents in both Curry and Roosevelt counties and raised $300,000 for the campaign.

Marshall Stinnett, a member of the state’s Military Base Planning Commission, said the announcement will mean a positive impact to the area beyond economics.

“We’re going to hate losing the F-16 community, but we’ll welcome the Special Ops community with open arms,” he said. “They are not only a boost to the economy but to the character of our community.”

The 27th Fighter Wing will be replaced by AFSOC in October 2007, according to Air Force officials.

After a spontaneous immigration rally in mid-April, local immigration reform activists took to the streets again in early May to take part in a national “Day Without an Immigrant.” The rally included more than 300, mostly Hispanic residents.

“It’s about unity,” said Ricardo Navarette, who attended the rally with his wife, Auroa. “It’s about showing support for all immigrants and a change in the laws to grant amnesty.”

Roosevelt County Democrats elected Darren Hooker in the June primary for sheriff. Without a sheriff candidate on the Republican ticket, the primary became the deciding factor in who would be the next sheriff.

Hooker, who has been with the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office since 1999, also served in the military police, including a stint in Iraq that ended just months before the election.

Hooker defeated incumbent Tom Gossett by a margin of 939 votes to 625.

According to an August PNT story, a quality-of-life study conducted by an Internet subsidiary of American City Business Journals ranked Portales 15th in the nation among micropolitan areas.

Portales’ good report took city and Chamber officials by surprise but delighted them just the same.

According to the report, published on bizjournals.com, micropolitan areas are defined as a cluster or zone of 10,000 to 50,000 residents.

Portales did well because of the strong growth recently in its per-capita income, low taxes, percentage of adults with higher education and short commuting times.

“It (the study) tells us what we already thought,” Portales Economic Development Director Jeremy Sturm said. “But it’s documented proof that we’re not just making this stuff up and that it’s for real.”

In late July the city took the first step in a project to further improve the quality of life in Portales, approving the study of an affordable housing project on land near the municipal golf course. The project generated 70 to 100 homes with prices ranging from $80,000 to $120,000.

The city also approved an application for a loan from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority to get the project started.

According to Mayor Orlando Ortega Jr., the housing is needed because of the expanding CAFB mission as well as growth in industry, including the dairy business.

One quality-of-life black mark resurfaced during the summer months in Portales as odors from the city’s wastewater treatment facility spurred complaints from residents similar to those a year before.

New city ordinances were enacted requiring control of the amount and quality of industrial sewage discharges. These actions combined with sludge removal in the sewer lagoons and new aerators were expected to remedy the problem.

Drought conditions were eased slightly as monsoonal moisture moved into the area in late July and early August. A rain measurement Aug. 2 of 1.38 inches was the largest amount recorded in more than a year.
The drought brought on fire bans in the county that lasted into the fall. Dry land crops withered but irrigated crops held their own at additional expense to area farmers.

Roosevelt County also celebrated three centennials during the summer. Elida resident Doris Wall marked a century of life in May with a birthday celebration at Heartland Continuing Care Center. The Portales National Bank had its 100th anniversary in August, and the Roosevelt County Fair turned 100 that month as well.

Other news events included:

May
• Roosevelt County Commissioners approve a pay increase for elected officials.
• The probe into the cause of the Floyd wildland fire that originated on CAFB was completed after six months. The Air Force said the fire was caused by training munitions.
• Portales MainStreet brokered a three-way property swap aimed at obtaining the former Portales Inn for redevelopment.

June
• An ammonia release at DairiConcepts forced the evacuation of workers for several hours.
• Lobbying efforts for a new charter school and soccer program began in front of the Portales Municipal Schools board. Soccer was approved by the board and the charter school was turned down but still under appeal.
• Weldon and Vernell Reed of Floyd were named Roosevelt County Pioneers of the Year.
• Portales police said that arrests for cocaine had begun to outpace arrests for methamphetamine.

July
• The Bonem House, a temporary home for youths with no place to live, opened.
• Portales begins studying alternatives for U.S. 70 through Portales, including alternate truck routes.
• A former Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office deputy is sentenced to five years in prison for criminal sexual penetration, after he took an inmate from the Roosevelt County Detention Center from the jail in July 2005 and had sex with her.

August
• Kim Huffman, executive director of the Roosevelt County Economic Development Corp. and Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce, resigns.
• Portales residents were stunned by deaths in two separate traffic accidents. Local dairy owners Doug and Deborah Idsinga, both 49, were killed in a single vehicle accident in Texas. Mireya Tarango, 7, was killed while crossing N.M. 88 on foot.
• Garvey Processing sells its Portales operation to J.D. Heiskell & Co.
• Dora residents upset over a continuing road project on N.M. 206 meet with legislators and state highway officials to vent their frustration.