Army says it prefers to buy, not condemn, land for training site
DENVER – The Army prefers to buy land from willing sellers to expand its Pinon Canyon training site in southeastern Colorado but has not ruled out condemnations, according to a report released Friday by Sen. Wayne Allard.Allard, a Republican, distributed a four-page “information paper” from the Army addressing why the military needs more land, how it plans to acquire it and other questions surrounding the proposed expansion, which would nearly triple the size of the site to about 654,000 acres.Some farmers and ranchers are opposed to the expansion and fear they will be forced to sell their land. Steve Wymer, Allard’s spokesman, said others in the area are open to selling their land.The Legislature is debating a bill that would bar the Army from using state eminent domain law to require landowners to sell, but even its backers admit the measure would be more symbolic.In the information paper, Assistant Secretary of the Army Keith E. Eastin writes, “The preferred method of executing the (Pinon Canyon) land acquisition is to buy the land from willing sellers.”Wymer said Army officials have made similar assertions before but Allard pressed them to put it in writing.Wymer said the Army has long said that forcing landowners to sell “would be a last resort.”Rancher Lon Robertson, the leader of a group opposing the expansion, said there are always some ranches for sale in the area but the majority of landowners don’t want to sell. He said the document simply reiterates the Army’s intentions.”They’re going ahead with their plans and that’s why we’re beholden to our (state) legislators to protect us from being steam rolled,” he said.Eastin’s paper says the Army envisions acquiring the 418,577 additional acres it needs over a matter of years, “buying suitable land when it becomes available on the free market.”Robertson took no comfort in that. He said the area’s economy could be devastated by the Army’s plan and, the longer it takes to complete, there will be more ranchers who aren’t able to hang on.Eastin said the Army needs more land to accommodate new training requirements and an expected expansion.The existing training site is used by soldiers from Fort Carson.
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