The War Next Door

Rich in history and imperiled species, Pinon Canyon isn't like any other place on earth. Locals fear that the Army wants to tear the hell out of it.

Another planning document, extracted by a Freedom of Information Act request by Not 1 More Acre!, went even further: "The terrain described below runs the gamut from complex canyon country with great similarity to Afghanistan to high scrub desert and grasslands reminiscent of the Middle East. The land is sparsely populated and eminently suitable for the type of extended operations envisioned.... Currently, this plan does not envision acquiring the towns scattered throughout this area, although some of the smaller towns may become available over time if PCMS obtains large adjoining tracks for training. The possibility of conducting training exercises in and around the towns...is potentially an exciting opportunity that 7ID and Fort Carson will explore."

That shoving people off their land and even shutting down entire towns was being viewed by the military as "an exciting opportunity" didn't win many supporters for the plan. When PCMS was first established, there had been little organized opposition and few ways to get a dissenting message out, except through the generally boosterish newspapers of southern Colorado. This time was different.

The PCEOC people set up a website and online petitions. They organized letter-writing campaigns directed at elected representatives. They showed up at public hearings with signs and sound bites. They were careful not to sound like a bunch of unpatriotic radicals, stressing that their own ranks included a scattering of veterans who'd seen action ranging from World War II and Korea to Vietnam and the Gulf War. Their message was simple: They'd already done their part, and the Army had failed to justify coming back for more.

"We kept hearing, 'Somebody has to sacrifice,'" Robertson says. "But we have. We've sacrificed part of our community, part of our economy. People in El Paso County say it's okay for us to sacrifice more, but they don't want it in their back yard."

El Paso County's congressman, Doug Lamborn, supported the expansion, and in 2007 the Army managed to obtain authorization from the Pentagon to purchase more land at PCMS, despite a moratorium on military land acquisition going back to 1990. But the mounting public pressure began to turn the tide. Locals were able to enlist other members of Congress, including John Salazar and Marilyn Musgrave, to push through a measure suspending appropriations for PCMS expansion.

In a joint letter to the Pueblo Chieftain, Salazar and Musgrave estimated that PCMS expansion would cost the regional economy up to $313 million a year. "Despite the Army's best claims, the additional troops assigned to Fort Carson are not going to travel to Pueblo to bank, buy clothes or get home loans," they wrote. "Our neighbors in Walsenburg, Trinidad, Thatcher, Model, Delhi and Tyrone and families all across southeastern Colorado, however, are the ones who currently conduct their business in Pueblo."

The funding ban was only the first punch in a two-fisted combination that stopped the Army in its tracks. The second came in Judge Matsch's courtroom. Louden, Herrell and Jean Aguerre, a former Wirth staffer who grew up in La Junta, went to court on behalf of Not 1 More Acre!, contending that the environmental impact statement the Army had prepared to move forward with construction on the existing site was fatally flawed.

Matsch noted that the Army had declined to specify how often or how extensively it planned to use the site, so it was difficult to gauge how much damage might be done by increased maneuvers. But it was clear from reading the after-action reports of previous exercises, the judge wrote, "that even those limited training exercises have had severe environmental consequences" — and the Army had failed to persuade him that it could avoid worse damage in the future.

"The obvious conflict between the training needs of the troops at Fort Carson," Matsch concluded, "and the use of the PCMS in an environmentally sustainable manner makes it apparent that the Army's purposes will not be accomplished without expansion of the PCMS."

He threw out the Army's plan to increase the frequency, duration and intensity of training exercises on the site. Then he ordered the Army to pay the plaintiffs $200,000 in legal fees.

******

In the summer of 2009, a few weeks before Matsch's ruling, Robert McLaughlin became the new garrison commander at Fort Carson. He soon began to hold meetings in southern Colorado to better understand the controversies surrounding Piñon Canyon.

"I knew that the first order of business was to gain trust and confidence," says McLaughlin, a 25-year veteran who's seen tours of Bosnia and Iraq. "It was hard for me as a soldier to hear what they had to say, that there was so much mistrust of an organization that does so much for the country with an all-volunteer force. But I understand their perspective."

Over the past sixteen months, McLaughlin has met monthly with a "working group" of local business, cultural and environmental interests to talk about what the Army is doing with PCMS. He's pledged to find ways to get more of the money spent on training into the southern Colorado community, through contracts with vendors for supplies and encouraging soldiers to shop in the area. He figures his troops spent $90,000 eating at restaurants in the Walsenburg-Trinidad area during maneuvers last summer. "There have been more contracts issued in southern Colorado in the last year than the total of the last thirty years," he says.

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6 comments
janisl55
janisl55

Every BRAC'd air base has to be declared a superfund site!  Thousands of gallons of toxic fuel and who knows what other chemicals dumped with impunity by the military.  They don't care--it's not THEIR home they are polluting!  Understand the unlimited arrogance and immorality of military activity--that they consider themselves entitled to land grabs.  Historic site?  Too bad.  They must continue to build their empire, that's how they have TRIPLED the defense expenditure in our federal budget since 1997.  Yes, tripled.  While our highways and schools languish, and after $1.3Trillion spent annually on this immoral folly--the middle class in the U. S. has disappeared.  Look at the resistance mounted around other mil bases--Key West, Norfolk, Whidbey Island; the people whose lives have been profoundly disrupted by this presence CAN fight and CAN prevail vs. the military.  Call and write your elected reps in Washington, D. C.  Tell them you want these bases closed as surplus.  There are hundreds of obsolete, unneeded bases that are way overdue to be closed.  Demand that Congress hold hearings to expedite the closing of bases--this fiscal year.  They are not good neighbors--their presence is a toxic hazard to every resident living in their vicinity. 

JF
JF

Your federal government loves you and wants you to be happy. Stop worrying and keep paying taxes.

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Doug Holdread
Doug Holdread

This is a FABULOUS article that more Coloradoans need to know about. It is a big deal. The Pentagon is trying to federalize and militarize the Southeastern corner of our state. It will cost all of us dearly if they succeed. Not only will it mean the destruction of irreplacable pre-historic and historic treasures and the elimination of a living cowboy heritage, but it will take away from our state to of the largest and most important alternative enegy generation areas for solar and wind. It would be a rotten deal all the way around if we end up using that land to increase our military capability to secure and control foriegn oil fields, rather than using it to secure energy independence for our nation. The ranchers of SE Colorado are not only fighting for their land; they are fighting for the sovereignty of our state and the security of our nation.

ArmsR4Hugs
ArmsR4Hugs

Yes indeed this is a fabulous article every American should read to have an awareness of the goal of the Five-sided Funny Farm to turn our nation into a Military State. There are deadly toxic substances at every military base. The ranchers must not cave in to the DOD; they must preserve their heritage once it is gone it cannot be recovered. My family had their land seized in 1942 that had been in the family since 1910 for a Navy base; quality of life has been in a steady decline over the decades with ever increasing loud invasive noise from aircraft. The DOD is attempting to limit the use of the land declaring Accident Potential Zones (APZ). There is a vast source of information on toxic contamination at: http://www.cpeo.org

 
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