A battle is brewing in Washington, D.C., between the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior over the proposed SunZia transmission line project.
One side, including some of our local and federal elected officials, sees no issue with the line bisecting a part of the northern extension area of White Sands Missile Range (WSMR); the other side sees that route as a possible game changer for the missions at WSMR.
The Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, along with the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce, the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce and the cities of El Paso and Alamogordo, supports the plan to bring a renewable energy provider to New Mexico, but not at the expense of the area’s strategic military assets.
There are two parts to this issue: national security and the economic impact the military bases have on the region. With another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) looming in the next few years, any changes that make the bases vulnerable must be avoided at all costs.
All three bases – WSMR, Holloman Air Force Base and Fort Bliss – stand to be impacted if the route proposed by SunZia is approved. The tall electrical towers will certainly affect the current missile testing being done at WSMR, not to mention limiting future test opportunities at WSMR as the military begins to draw down traditional forces and shifts focus to what is happening in the Asian theater.
Those same towers will make training missions at Holloman AFB more difficult, especially as they transition the current fleet of F-22s to the lower-flying F-16s sometime in 2014. Those same pilots already must contend with large windmill farms in the eastern part of the state, so additional man-made obstacles will limit their training missions.
The German air force, a large tenant at Holloman, also sees this line, as proposed, as problematic for their training missions.
Not only will the three local bases be impacted by this route, so, too, will bases such as Fort Wingate and its surrounding communities, where some of the missile firings originate from. This is far from only a southern New Mexico issue.
It is certainly a big gamble to allow a privately funded project excessive latitude that could impact the $2.3 million per day WSMR brings to the community and the $1.9 million per day that Holloman AFB brings into Alamogordo. The three bases are so interdependent that any degradation of capabilities to one base will impact all three.
Congressman Steve Pearce has opposed this project from the onset, dating back five or six years ago. During our most recent visit to Washington, D.C., in March, the congressman reiterated his opposition to this plan.
The Chamber stands with WSMR on this issue and hopes that the people in Washington, D.C., make a decision in favor of national security and the southern New Mexico economy.