Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

10-17 attachment

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico's U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman are cooperating on efforts crucial to our state.
They have added a provision to the Defense Spending Bill prohibiting the Pentagon from withdrawing any forces or assets from Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis until Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has certified to Congress that he has sought new missions for the base. He has until Oct. 1, 2006 to report. The bill has passed the Senate and is now in a House-Senate conference committee, on which Domenici serves.
The fear has been that since the Defense Department wants to close Cannon, it will leave the base looking like a ghost town and use that as justification that no new mission is appropriate.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission overrode the Pentagon's closure recommendation and directed that new missions be sought for Cannon after its fighter wings are reassigned to other bases.
Our congressional delegation took a back seat to Gov. Bill Richardson during the battle to keep Cannon open. Or at least that was the public appearance. This effort by Domenici and Bingaman should help change that perception.
Domenici and Bingaman, who are of opposite parties, but who often work together, especially on New Mexico issues, also have teamed to protect Fort Stanton Cave's recently-discovered Snowy River Passage.
The passage is a unique continuous white crystalline calcite formation that has been mapped for two miles, so far. Scientists believe it could lead to new discoveries in areas such as water chemistry, weather trends and flood and drought cycles.
The bill calls for protection, not only of the passage, but of the land surface above it. That is sure to impact the proposed land development surrounding Fort Stanton that has been the subject of hot debate in Lincoln County.
In a related development, the state Environment Department has awarded Cannon Air Force Base its highest recognition level for excellence in its environmental efforts. It was alone in that category.
Cannon reduced its hazardous waste by 80 percent, its solvent waste by 96 percent and diverted more than 7,000 tons of reusable materials from its landfill. Environment Secretary Ron Curry says these actions also saved Cannon $200,000.
Should this recognition cause the Pentagon to be more likely to find another mission for Cannon? Military bases are notorious for degrading their environment. The cleanup cost overruns for closed bases are a major reason why projected savings from base closures become increased costs instead.
So if Cannon is closed, cleanup costs there may not be as high. Apparently the astronomical costs of cleanup at some bases assures they will remain open forever.
This column recently commented on what appeared to be a case of dueling railyard developments in Santa Fe. The local government has had a railyard development project on the drawing board for years, but keeps second-guessing itself and going back to square one.
In August, Gov. Richardson announced the state will enter a public-private partnership to develop a railyard for his Belen-Santa Fe commuter train about a mile down the tracks from the city's proposed railyard.
We speculated that the action-oriented governor would finish his development before the city ever gets off the dime and would grab much of the commercial and residential business the city is anticipating.
Not so, says Richardson's senior policy advisor Bill Hume. The state and city are communicating and coordinating. They feel both projects are needed, so there will be no competition.
The city railyard will have a heavy emphasis on local needs, such as artists' lofts. The state project will do the heavy lifting in areas such as parking (a major Santa Fe problem) and commuter transportation to other locations in the city.

MON, 10-17-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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