Public meeting held concerning low altitude flights

Thomas Garcia

More than a dozen Quay County residents attended a public hearing Thursday hosted by officials from Cannon Air Force Base concerning low altitude training flights.

Residents commented on the proposed flights during the meeting.

Tom Phelps of Clovis, CEO of ENMR Plateau, said the Air Force needs to use the low altitude airspace to conduct proper training.

“We must provide them with what they need to defend our freedoms and liberties,” Phelps said. “We have to give them the tools necessary to achieve their mission.”

David Willebrand of Tucumcari said if Cannon does not get approval for their flight plan, it may affect the bases mission and lead to a closure.

“I am a 26 year veteran of the Air Force and believe we need to support Cannon,” Willebrand said. “If the base closes down it will affect us as well.”

Tom Sidwell of Tucumcari said he believes in supporting the troops and providing them with a proper training area. However, he said there were many issues not addressed in the Air Force’s assessment. One those issues, he said, was compensation for use of land owner airspace.

“The landowners have the rights to the air space 500 feet above their property,” Sidwell said “The flights have already entered into that airspace many times without the permission of the landowners. Should they not be compensated for that?”

Sidwell said the assessment states it will not interfere with any existing wind energy projects, but does not address future wind energy developments.

“From the two wind farms Quay County has earned $347,000,” Sidwell said. “That is $1,500 per megawatt. Quay County has a potential for 10 gigawatts which translates to $15 million.”

Sidwell said any future wind farms would have to submit their plans to the Department of Defense. He said the DoD will review the plan though it is unlikely they will approve anything which would interfere with operational readiness.

Col. Larry Munz, acting 27 SOW vice commander, headed meetings regarding the Draft Environmental Assessment, which outlined Cannon’s plan to establish a flight area in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.

“These forums are one of many opportunities the public has to comment and voice their concerns,” Munz said.

The Draft Environmental Assessment analyzes the potential environmental impacts of the 27 SOW’s proposal to conduct low-level flights in MC-130J and CV-22 special operations aircraft.

“This information is available to the public to review,” Munz said. “We will be accepting written comments until Nov. 5 concerning the assessment.”

Cannon Public Affairs Officer Lt. Stephanie Strine said the meetings are being held to inform the public and meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.

“We take our mission very seriously and want to complete it safely while minimizing impact to both the environment and people of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. We recognize that there are many differing opinions about the proposed training area, and documenting these is a crucial part of the NEPA process. We appreciate public involvement and welcome their comments,” said Col. Kirk Smith, 27th Special Operations Wing vice commander.

Additional information can be seen at: www.cannon.af.mil/library/environment.asp