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.

But the promise of economic benefits is intertwined with the Army's latest proposal for ramping up training on the site. The new environmental assessment (EA) declares that expansion isn't being considered at this point, while declining to quantify just how much additional training is planned at PCMS. Using Fort Carson's training grounds as a basis of comparison, the EA suggests that the site could be used up to nine months of the year, giving the land three months to recover — even though previous studies concluded that the area couldn't stand more than twenty weeks of maneuvers a year.

McLaughlin notes that brigade-level operations for troops facing deployment overseas are now being conducted as a "capstone" exercise at the National Training Center in California and other key installations. He contends that future maneuvers at PCMS will probably be on the battalion, rather than brigade, level except for certain command-and-control operations. "It's not an increased use of Piñon Canyon," he insists. "We don't want to go legally over what the [Matsch] ruling was. I wouldn't characterize it as 'increased use,' but more routine use of the training area."

But the plaintiffs in the lawsuit complain that last summer's large-scale, month-long mechanized maneuvers on the site, the first training operation of its size in nine years, indicates that Fort Carson plans to go well beyond the "historic use" of the site, in defiance of a court order.

The Piñon Canyon region contains one of the richest deposits of prehistoric and historic sites in the West.
The Piñon Canyon region contains one of the richest deposits of prehistoric and historic sites in the West.
Jim Herrell opposes increased military exercises at Pinon Canyon.
Jim Herrell opposes increased military exercises at Pinon Canyon.

"It's a challenge to the decision that Judge Matsch made nineteen months ago," says Jean Aguerre. "That was a very clear, very strong opinion that there can't be expanded training at Piñon Canyon. But even though taxpayers have given the military 30 million acres in this country, somehow they have to keep pushing it on a site that's been used less than twice a year since its inception. Piñon Canyon has never satisfied their training requirements, and it never will."

Recently an attorney for Not 1 More Acre! wrote to the U.S. Army's Environmental Command, protesting that plans for improvements to the site, including the construction of two clamshell shelters for tank and helicopter maintenance, were specifically prohibited by Matsch's order.

"It's against the law to segment an action for the purpose of getting around environmental requirements," says Wooten. "We feel that's what this is. Rather than doing what they proposed to do in the previous environmental impact statement, they're doing little pieces of it here and there. They're walking a fine line."

McLaughlin doesn't see it that way. "We'll never violate the law," he says. "We were going to do some construction that was problematic, so I took it off the table. But if we do have more routine training and mechanized forces out there, it's more economically viable to position equipment out there, and it will have to be maintained. That will create some local jobs. Is it prudent to build some kind of clamshell to protect the equipment from the elements? I think so."

The prospect of a combat aviation brigade — 2,700 soldiers, 600 ground vehicles, 120 Apache, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters — descending on PCMS makes Mack Louden think about the dust cloud that hung over the place for weeks at a time in the 1980s, when tank maneuvers were a "routine" part of the training regimen.

"If I overgraze my property, that dirt will go over to my neighbor's place," Louden says. "One-eighth of an inch of dirt on a grama grass plant will kill it. They realized back in the '80s that the land couldn't take that kind of pounding. But now they want to use the heck out of it."

Wooten remembers touring the PCMS after large-scale maneuvers in the 1980s and seeing huge ruts in the ground that would take years to heal. "We saw sixteen-inch deep tracks where it got wet and they kept drilling," he recalls. "That soil can't support those tanks. But their line of thinking is, 'We're not managing it wrong, we just don't have enough. If we had more to manage, we wouldn't cause so much damage.'"

He says he would have more confidence in the current management of PCMS if the Army hadn't dispensed with the services of independent advisers on environmental and preservation issues. "The scientific community isn't involved any more," he notes. "Congress doesn't have an unbiased look at what's actually going on out there."

McLaughlin says that the Army has trimmed contracts with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service consultants and is doing more "insourcing," relying on its own ecology and cultural-resource experts for oversight. But he also plans to bring in more stakeholders for tours of the site before and after maneuvers, a process he started last summer.

In deciding that the military hadn't made its case for increased training, Judge Matsch relied heavily on the Army's own after-action reports of past maneuvers. The reports are, at times, an unusually candid recounting of the blunders involved in dispatching large quantities of humans and vehicles to a haven of threatened wildlife and supposedly off-limits cultural resources. For example:

1985: "For the most part bivouac areas such as the one located at grid coordinates 840530 received almost complete removal of the lower vegetative component (grasses)."

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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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