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Cannon officials seek expansion of military training air space

Officials with Cannon Air Force Base met with community leaders Friday to discuss a proposed expansion of airspace used for military training.

The proposal seeks to expand the airspace an additional 10 miles toward Portales, leaving the boundaries about 20 miles west of Portales and about five miles west of Floyd.

Base commander Col. Robert Yates briefed about 50 Portales residents — including high-ranking city and university officials — for about an hour at Eastern New Mexico University’s Sandia Room about the impact of the proposed changes. Cannon officials will hold a public scoping meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday evening at ENMU’s Becky Sharp Auditorium.

“The newer boundaries (would) give us more flexibility to marshal our forces and make our setups (to combat training) a little bit wider,” Yates said. “We’re set up for success because we’ve got support at all levels — local government, Portales, Clovis, Roswell, Vaughn, Fort Sumner.”

The proposed changes would also allow pilots to travel at supersonic speeds and at increased altitudes within the new boundaries, which would also allow for sonic booms, or thuds caused by certain plane accelerations and maneuvers.

Yates said that it would be possible for the sounds to reach Portales, but not likely. He said ranchers living within the proposed expansion would be more likely to hear the booms, but noted the pilots would be conducting the majority of their training near the center of the airspace and not near the boundaries.

In a worst case scenario, the sonic booms (or sound waves) could shatter the glass of buildings and homes, but Yates said such occurrences are rare.

Marshall Stinnett, a member of the ENMU Board of Regents and a Portales resident, said the process of expansion will certainly help Cannon remain open after the government’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.

Ultimately, the Federal Aviation Administration will make the decision whether to accept the proposed Training Range Initiative, which includes moving a jet interstate about 20 miles north to account for proposed expansion into the Fort Sumner area.

Yates said those proposed changes were among the biggest concerns for FAA officials who were briefed on the plan. Yates said this may be the first time the FAA has been asked to move an interstate for military training purposes.

Cannon has already spent $1.5 million to fund an environmental impact study on the proposed Training Range Initiative, Yates said.

Part of the impact study will include Monday night’s scoping meeting and three additional scoping meetings this week in Fort Sumner, Vaughn and Roswell, other areas near the proposed expansion.

Cannon officials hope to deliver an environmental impact statement to Congress for review by November 2005.

“The message is we’re not just trying to strong-arm people, we’re not trying to sell them a bill of goods, we’re trying to make sure the airspace that we train in matches the competition,” Yates said.

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