By Sharna Johnson
Freedom New Mexico
Curry County will gather bids to surface an alternate route around Curry Road R, which lies along Cannon Air Force Base’s western perimeter —temporarily abandoning plans to improve access to the base’s south gate.
The decision was reached in a 4-1 vote Tuesday during a Curry County Commission meeting at the Clovis-Carver Library.
Commission Chairman Caleb Chandler said the move is not being discussed as a step toward closing CR R, but instead may pull traffic away from the controversial section that connects State Road 467 to Portales and U.S. 60/84.
The vote resulted in instructions to County Manager Lance Pyle to seek bids for chipseal resurfacing of Curry Road 7, from State Road 467 to Curry Road S, and CR S north to U.S. 60/84.
Pyle was also told to calculate the project using as many resources from the county road department as possible to help cut costs.
Base leaders have for more than two years argued for closure of CR R because they say its proximity to the perimeter poses a security threat to the base.
About four months ago, commissioners voted to direct just less than $974,000 in federal money — given to the county for road improvements around Cannon — toward improved access from SR 467 to the south gate because they said it was not enough to create an alternate bypass for CR R.
In the November vote, Chandler and Commissioner Dan Stoddard opposed directing the money to Cannon’s south gate.
At that time a representative from Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s office told commissioners they could use the money as they saw fit but that it was highly unlikely any more federal money would be coming to Curry County for projects.
Commissioner Wendell Bostwick said Tuesday completing the access project at the south gate has proved difficult because there is high traffic through the gate tied to construction on the base and as a result, it can’t be closed to begin the project.
Commissioner Frank Blackburn, who voted against the repurposing, voiced concern the move was a step toward closing CR R.
Chandler responded that all the county would be doing is paving the alternate route and that the measure being taken Tuesday did not close CR R.
Blackburn also said he believes the gate access needs to be addressed.
“When are we ever going to get to it (gate access)?,” he asked.
Bostwick responded saying there are, “things coming down from (the Department of) Defense and the governor’s office,” which will allow for completion of the project in the future, freeing up the current budget for other things.
“The (Air Force) has told us they will schedule (gate closure) in the next couple of years,” Bostwick said.
Commissioner Bobby Sandoval, who supported the measure, spoke to clarify why commissioners were dedicating the money to roads around Cannon.
“Even though we do have huge needs all over the county, this money was (federally) appropriated for roads around Cannon,” he said.
Resident Doug Reid, who has been outspoken on the issue of CR R, pressed commissioners about their intentions.
“I’m getting more confused,” he said, asking Chandler if the plan was to close CR R.
“We’re not discussing that yet,” Chandler said.
“Whether or not Curry Road R gets closed, this will help take some of the traffic away from Curry Road R.”
Reid told commissioners he was concerned because after more than two years of discussion, the county still has not spoken to land owners that live in the area, who would be impacted by a road closure.
He also asked that when they attend a Wednesday meeting on the Joint Land Use Study, they heavily scrutinize the recommendations being made, saying there is “dangerous” language for landowners contained in the proposed solutions to cohabitation issues between the base and surrounding areas.