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Artesia looking for seat at table with USAF expansion

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ARTESIA — The Artesia City Council is encouraging staff members to set up a meeting with the United States Air Force regarding expanding airspace in Southeast New Mexico.

Councilors were briefed by City Clerk Aubrey Hobson during Tuesday night’s meeting.

He said the expansion would be east of the Artesia Municipal Airport and he said that some flights coming in from West Texas would be impacted if the expansion goes through.

“This is for them to train the F-16 fighter pilots from Holloman (near Alamogordo) and they need extra space,” Hobson said.

“This will be an overflow of space, there won’t be a constant use when they begin,” he added. “I don’t believe they’re going to be training for another two years.”

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Hobson said such a decision probably won’t be made until the end of this year.

Councilors were provided some information from the USAF. Hobson said the material gave information on the expansion plans and how the public can be involved with input.

“Roswell and Carlsbad have sent many letters and had a lot of meetings and correspondence with the people and tell them they oppose this,” Hobson said.

Hobson added that Roswell seems to be affected more due to the amount of commercial flights that come in and out of the Roswell International Air Center.

Hobson said he had a chance to meet with a USAF official last week, “if they do what they say, it’s not going to affect us that much. We were concerned about the air ambulance’s and medevac’s, if it’s an emergency vehicle, they have priority.”

Hobson said radio contact would have to be made and the fighter jets will leave the area.

“For anyone else, if they need to fly into the airport or out of the airport, all they have to do is notify the airport that they’re going to be there and put in a call to the Air Force and they will vacate the area usually in five minutes,” Hobson said.

Hobson said that the Air Force has meetings planned for Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences and Carlsbad.

“I’m not sure they realize how important this airport is and how many flights come in and out of it and we would at least like to have them come and talk to us,” Hobson said.

“Obviously the folks in Alamogordo want the expansion for them,” said Artesia’s new Mayor Raye Miller.

“The expansion is not only to the east, it’s also to the west and folks on the western side of the state have issues about endangered species,” Miller said. “We don’t believe the Air Force has listened to those issues.”

Miller also brought up medical concerns as well.

“If I have a heart attack and I’m carried by ambulance I just assume they have a straight flight from here to Lubbock and not have to go around by Roswell, I’m not sure I’d make the extra time,” he said.

“We’ve discussed that,” Hobson said. “They say at other airports they do it this way. We would want to make sure that we have an operating agreement with them saying this is how it is and they have to stay with it and what the repercussions are if they don’t.”

General assignment reporter Mike Smith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 307, or at sports2@rdrnews.com.

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