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Council votes on matters related to former air base

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Working with the Federal Aviation Administration to release the city from any further financial encumbrances related to the Old Municipal Airport land will require expert assistance, says City Manager Joe Neeb, seen at an October 2018 Airport Advisory Commission meeting. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Decisions aimed at paving way for future economic growth

 

The Roswell City Council has approved two actions with roots in the 1968 Walker Air Base closure, actions that city leaders hope will enable the city to move toward future growth.

The 10 councilors voted unanimously during their Dec. 13 meeting to ask the New Mexico Legislature to turn over state property at the Roswell International Air Center to the city and to request that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) release the city from any further financial obligations related to Old Municipal Airport land in the northwest part of the city.

Both actions, previously recommended by the city Airport Advisory Commission and committees of the City Council, are intended to aid the city in its economic and community development goals.

The state parcel at 31 Gail Harris St., once part of the Walker Air Base, was deeded to the state when the military base was closed in 1967. The state used the site for the New Mexico Rehabilitation Hospital until 2011, when it built a new campus a few blocks south. Most of the old structures at 31 Gail Harris St. were demolished in 2013. Since that time, the old site of about 16 acres has sat unused.

City officials are thinking it could be a good place for affordable workforce housing for the region, perhaps a “tiny home” neighborhood, as described during an Airport Advisory Commission meeting.

During the 2018 legislative session, area legislators carried a joint resolution in the Senate and House asking that the city be allowed to purchase the land, but that resolution, while signed by the House, did not make it beyond a committee hearing in the Senate.

“I am hoping that a resolution from the council, should this pass, would have more of an impact,” said Mayor Dennis Kintigh.

All 10 councilors voted for the resolution with only a brief discussion about the amount of land involved.

In another action, the council approved a resolution allowing the city to request the FAA to release it from any further financial encumbrances related to the Old Municipal Airport property, located in the area around the Cielo Grande Recreation Area on West College Boulevard. 

The land was also given to the city by the U.S. military, which had used it for a while during World War II as an Army auxiliary airfield. The city then used it for its municipal airport until the military base, by then an Air Force base, closed. In 1968, the city began using the former Walker Air Force Base for its commercial air and aviation operations.

As part of the agreement to decommission the Old Municipal Airport, the FAA required that the city funnel an equal amount of money that had gone to the old airport to the new airport, stipulating that any funds from sales or leases of the Old Municipal Airport land be used for operations or development at the new airport until a reimbursement of at least $953,294 had been reached.

City Attorney Aaron Holloman said during the council meeting that amount translates into about $7 million in today’s dollars, according to his “cocktail math.” An online inflation calculator came to a similar amount. 

During an Airport Advisory Commission meeting, Air Center Director Scott Stark said that the city can identify only $53,106 in direct payments to the new airport since 1968, but he and other managers with the city said that they think Roswell has far exceeded the minimum reimbursement amount over the past five decades, given all the fire, police, budget and accounting, human resources and maintenance services that have been provided to support the airport and the cost of infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

“We believe we have met the threshold,” Holloman said.

Kintigh and City Manager Joe Neeb said that the request to the FAA — which will entail a “bureaucratic challenge,” in Holloman’s words — will be handled at least partly by consultants.

“This may require retention of some outside experts to help us navigate the FAA,” Kintigh said. “It is not something that necessarily will be easy.”

The city has developed design standards for future mixed-use residential, commercial and recreational developments on the land, envisioned as being built by private developers. Several other platting and surveying steps would be required before the land would be ready for development, should the FAA agree to terms for freeing the land from financial restrictions.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.