By Kathleen Sloan
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the July 18, 2012 edition of The Herald (Vol. 84, No. 1), in its entirety, however, the jump to Page 5 was mislabeled, which led to many readers not knowing where the article continued. We apologize for the confusion.
The Truth or Consequences City Commission passed a motion in February to shorten the municipal airport’s Runway 29 by 1,400 feet. Nevertheless, they passed the same motion at the Tuesday, July 10 meeting, but also tacked on, almost as an afterthought, the shortening of Runway 19 by 250 feet.
City Manager Juan Fuentes said on Friday, July 13, that the first motion to shorten Runway 29 was contingent on approval of a land lease agreement with Hot Springs Land Development. He said the city commission thinks it’s a good idea to shorten the runway, even if the lease deal doesn’t happen.
Runway 29 is a 7,000-foot long dirt runway that is used mostly by the military for training. It is being shortened to allow Hot Springs Land Development to build a travel center between State Highway 181 and Interstate 25. The current runway protection zone ordinance limits population density to five people. The zoning grandfathered in the crossing of State Highway 181, but this shortening will remove that option.
Runway 19 is about 4,000 feet long, and about 250 feet of that runway extends into HSLD’s land. With this shortening, the runway protection zone will still extend into private land, but it’s “a drop-off,” said Airport Advisory Board Chair Bobby Middleton on Thursday, July 12. Middleton confirmed that the board had not made a motion to shorten Runway 19 and the notion had only been mentioned at the July 3 city Planning & Zoning meeting, which was attended by three Airport Advisory Board members.
Middleton had been unaware of the shortening and drove out Thursday morning to the airport to assess the decision. “I’m fine with it,” he said. The drop-off, said Middleton, makes it unlikely that anything will ever be built there, therefore, even if the protection zone still extends onto HSLD property, it will probably not be an issue for the city or HSLD, explained Middleton.
Middleton said he thought Runway 19 was added in because WH Pacific Engineer Mark Huntzinger was hired several months ago to redraft the airport protection zone, triggered by shortening Runway 29. Runway 19’s shortening would trigger a second redraft, so this was probably meant to save time and money, said Middleton.
Middleton said he called City Manager Juan Fuentes, who said the board could “ratify” the shortening of the runway at an Airport Advisory Board meeting. Asked by The Herald if this would not be after the fact, Middleton agreed.
Both runways have been shortened with no public hearing, although the airport is public land and this is a public land use issue, which changes the zoning.
State Law, under “Municipal Airports, states: 3-39-22. Zoning regulations; procedure. A. No airport zoning regulations shall be adopted, amended or changed under the Municipal Airport Zoning Law [3-39-16 to 3-39-26 NMSA 1978] except by action of the legislative body of the political subdivision in question, after a public hearing in relation thereto, at which parties in interest and citizens shall have an opportunity to be heard. At least fifteen days’ notice of the hearing shall be published in an official paper, or a paper of general circulation, in the political subdivision.”
Instead of having hearings before shortening the runways, the city supposedly will present the accomplished fact at a future hearing on the new airport protection zone. There have been letters to the editor, supported by statements from previous-Airport Manager Dan Dickson, which claim shortening Runway 29 will prevent the Air Force from using it for training troops for Afghanistan and similar terrain, since they need the whole runway.
The Herald contacted Canon Air Force Base in February, when Runway 29 was shortened. Their public information officers said they could not confirm or deny their need for the whole runway without also possibly informing the enemy of their landing and take-off needs.