Fort Carson gets waiver to begin Pinon Canyon expansion
DENVER – Fort Carson has won a waiver from a 16-year-old Defense Department moratorium on major land acquisitions, paving the way for an in-depth study of a controversial proposal to nearly triple the size of an Army training site in southeastern Colorado.Under the waiver announced Wednesday, Fort Carson officials will soon begin soliciting comments from various agencies and the public on its proposal to add 654 square miles to the 368-square-mile Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site about 150 miles southeast of the post near Colorado Springs, said Fort Carson spokesman Lt. Col. David Johnson.”It just gives us an opportunity to continue our planning process,” Johnson said. “Now that this (moratorium) is lifted, it goes beyond the academic. We can determine socio-economic, environmental, cultural and historical factors that could be impacted by this expansion.””It’s a long, complex process and there’s still a lot of potential. Nothing’s guaranteed,” he said.The Army so far has not asked for any funding for the expansion, which Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., described as “far from a done deal.”Allard and Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., said they met this week with Keith Eastin, assistant secretary of the Army for installations and environment, who told them the Army hopes to carry out the expansion with land from willing sellers alone.Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., said he also would oppose any condemnations to complete the expansion.”Private property is a sacred part of our heritage as a nation, and I will work hard to preserve the rights of all property owners,” he said.The proposal to expand Pinon Canyon to an area slightly smaller than Rhode Island has drawn stiff opposition from area landowners who fear economic harm and the possibility that the Army might condemn their ranches and farms.Lon Robertson of Kim, president of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site Expansion Opposition Coalition, said opponents expected the waiver. He said he hoped the Army would be forthcoming with details of its proposal now that it can begin preparing an environmental impact statement – a highly detailed look at the potential effects of the expansion.”I think we’ll have a bit more of an understanding of what the Army is looking at and that puts pressure on the legislators who decide whether the money will be appropriated or not,” Robertson said. “They should look at alternative sites and other avenues or other ways of getting the training done that they think needs to be done.”He said the group will continue to fight the expansion and push to eliminate the existing Pinon Canyon site.The site was created in the early 1980s. About half its area was acquired through eminent domain, or condemnation of private property.Johnson said the additional land is needed to handle improved battlefield technology and equipment and the scheduled growth of Fort Carson. The post has about 16,000 soldiers now but is projected to have about 25,000 by the summer of 2009, he said.He said the expansion would help relieve an Army-wide need for 5 million acres, or 7,813 square miles, of new land for training purposes.He said several brigades of the 2nd and 4th Infantry Divisions, along with smaller units, regularly use the site to closely replicate battlefield conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.In one recent exercise, commanders stationed at Fort Carson – about 150 miles northwest of Pinon Canyon – controlled about 5,000 troops using heavy equipment such as tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopters.”Our request to expand the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site is based on our expected increase in soldiers and units, the evolving sophistication and the improving technologies that require an expanded battlefield,” he said. “The Army is being transformed, and that has increased the speed, range and mobility of combat units and improved command and control capabilities. It also permits units to operate in and control significantly greater battle space than before.”He said Fort Carson officials will begin scheduling public meetings soon.Salazar said he has told Defense Department officials that the Army should offer a “significant” economic incentive plan to offset possible harm to rural southeastern Colorado communities.
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