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Legislators give $5 million to Air Center

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The southern portion of the airfield, unlike the terminal area, does not have water, sewer, electric, gas or internet. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Bill awaits Gov. Lujan Grisham’s review

The Roswell Air Center could receive another big chunk of funding.

The New Mexico Legislature has passed House Bill 349 with no dissenting votes, and the bill allocates $5 million to develop utilities and infrastructure for the airfield to help with business and job creation.

HB 349 provides for $532.22 million in statewide capital outlay allocations, funded by severance tax bonds. In Chaves County, 25 projects have been given $11.92 million in funding.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has until March 11 to make decisions about approved legislation.

“I think it is fantastic,” said Bud Kunkel, chairman of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. and a member of the city of Roswell Airport Advisory Commission that has been working on ideas for future Air Center development. “How often do we get $5 million for the air center?”

Providing for water, sewer, gas, electric and internet, as well as road improvements and pavement, on the south and east sides of the airfield is seen as a necessary step before businesses will build commercial hangars or other facilities.

“If someone wants to come and build a facility here in Roswell to employ people and build their airplanes, they can come in and build their building in a year and be up and going,” said Timothy Jennings. “That’s our goal, and we think we can find people who are willing to invest to do that. … But nobody was going to come in there if it was going to cost them $5 million and two years or three years to get infrastructure in.”

A former state senator and a member of the Economic Development Corp’s Air Center Task Force, Jennings first introduced the funding request to Chaves County commissioners in October.

Commissioners voted to make the project a priority item on the county Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan. Projects must be on ICIP lists approved by local elected officials to be considered by legislators for state funding.

Jennings said he thinks there is broad support for Air Center development among city and county leaders. He added that the state legislators representing Chaves County were all “pulling for” the appropriation.

Kunkel and Jennings said they are also hopeful about the governor’s support. They said they and others with the Economic Development Corp. met with Lujan Grisham in November to talk specifically about the funding request and that she had responded positively to the idea.

“We have basically an agricultural community,” Jennings said. “One of the things I think the governor wants to do is to have us be in a place where we are not just a one-kind-of-job type of community, to diversify as much as we can to create more and more jobs here.”

If the governor allows the allocation, city and county staff and leadership will have to work together. The city of Roswell owns the airfield and most of the Air Center property, but the county would be the entity receiving the funding and also owns some of the roads near the south end of the airfield.

Air Center Director Scott Stark said that he is “grateful that the Legislature sees the value that the Air Center brings to the economy of Roswell and southeast New Mexico. Although I cannot comment on any specifics at the time, this funding will have positive impact.”

The bill is due to take effect upon the governor’s signature. But it could take a year or more after funding is received locally for any type of construction to occur because city-county planning, engineering and design work, public contracting processes and other steps would need to occur first.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.