Cannon growth presents challenges

By Eric Butler: FNM correspondent

In 2005, Clovis residents gathered in the north meeting room at the library and fretted about their community’s existence.

On Tuesday night, a much different tune was being whistled in the same room.

Instead of worry about an impeding closure of Cannon Air Force Base, which did not happen, audience members now heard how Cannon’s imminent growth will present a whole different set of challenges.

In the fourth meeting to take place in Eastern New Mexico over the past two days, representatives from Albuquerque-based Keystone International presented a report on growth planning to Clovis citizens.

Gary Van Valin, chair of Keystone, said he believed that Cannon Air Force Base’s personnel will surge to over 5,000 members by 2012 and the military base’s growth will fuel a rise in Clovis’ population to over 50,000.

“You change from rural to urban when you go over 50,000 people,” said Van Valin.

“People are more prone to consider looking into coming here to work, because it’s not rural,” he said. “I don’t know when, but it’s going to happen soon.”

Cannon Air Force Base, which was slated to close at one point four years ago, is expected to be the major source of a growth period for Clovis and Portales. The base currently has a working population of 2,900, military and civilian. But Van Valin expects that 350 more — and their families — will arrive this summer.

“Taking a good look at it, sometime between now and the end of that growth, the microplex region will need another 2,200 units — either homes, duplexes or apartments,” Van Valin said. “We’ve had several contractors participate in our monthly meetings, so there are people who are very aware that the microplex has a need for new construction.”

Keystone’s evaluation of the region was broken up into nine areas: housing, land use, public utilities, transportation, education, health and social services, public safety and emergency services, economic impact and quality of life.

Van Valin thought that Clovis’ public safety infrastructure was best equipped to handle the potential growth while the city, on the other hand, needs to actively recruit doctors and dentists to the area in the coming years.

Also recommended is the establishment of a growth management organization as well as a plan for diversification of the local economy.

About 25 percent of the Clovis economy is impacted by Cannon — a figure that Van Valin said was high compared to other cities serving as the principal community for a military base.

“The DOD (Department of Defense) does not want communities to be heavily dependent on an installation,” he said.

David Witschi of the Office of Economic Adjustment, an office within the defense department, thinks that Clovis is in a solid position to handle the growth anticipated for the area.

“We’re working with about 25 communities that are growing and another 25 that are closing installations,” Witschi said. “It’s a very different set of circumstances, but both create an economic impact upon the community. I think that Clovis and Cannon’s situation is fortunate compared to some of the others.

“Some installations are getting 16,000 to 20,000 new soldiers,” he added. “They have to provide the housing, the schools and the jobs for spouses and even transportation can be a problem. They have a lot to deal with that this community, fortunately, doesn’t have to deal with.”