Pinon Canyon: Army Slates Public Comment on Ramp-Up at Not-So-Public Time and Place

After years of battling the Pentagon's plans to expand the 367-square-mile Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, ranchers and other residents of southeastern Colorado thought they'd finally achieved peace with honor last fall, when a top Army official formally announced that the military was abandoning any land acquisition plans for PCMS. But the latest proposal for increased use of the site in training Fort Carson troops -- an intense ramp-up of operations, heavy on the use of electronic warfare technologies, lasers, explosives, drones, restrictions on public air space, and more -- doesn't strike the expansion opponents as too neighborly.

See also: Leaked Documents Show Army's Bold Plan to Acquire 10,000 Square Miles of Colorado

For one thing, the only public meeting to allow comment on the plan's draft environmental impact statement is scheduled for this Thursday, November 20, shortly after sunset -- on the PCMS site itself, 150 miles south of Fort Carson and a long drive from just about anywhere.

Is the inconvenient setting -- right before a busy winter travel week, and requiring that folks from Trinidad or La Junta leave work hours early in order to attend the meeting -- designed to discourage public feedback on the proposal? The Fort Carson media relations chief denied any such intent in a recent e-mail to the Colorado Springs Independent, saying that the on-site gathering was an opportunity for the public to see Stryker Brigade Combat Team vehicles up close: "During a fiscally constrained environment, holding one meeting is a savings to the taxpayer and the Army."

But members of the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition, a loose-knit alliance of ranching and tourism interests, environmental activists, cultural and historical preservationists, and others, are pushing for additional public meetings in Colorado Springs, Pueblo or Trinidad. They argue that the the broad scope of Fort Carson's efforts to develop brigade-size exercises at PCMS, involving advanced equipment and weapons systems, deserves more discussion and scrutiny.

The proposed increased training includes not only the use of Stryker vehicles but non-explosive aviation gunnery; electronic jamming systems designed to mess with enemy cell phones and radio; laser targeting systems; demolition training, including the use of C4, TNT and plastic explosives; and more. The draft EIS takes the position that the impacts of these activities, in terms of noise, environmental damage and so on, will be mostly "negligible" or "minor."

But neighboring landowners have expressed concerns about traffic, noise that could affect calving and other issues, while the PCEOC contingent has raised questions about airspace restrictions and the establishment of drop zones that would require the removal of trees and protective fencing around archaeological sites. In 2009, a federal judge ruled that the Army's efforts to protect the environment and historic sites at PCMS had been woefully inadequate, and critics say the provisions for such protections amid the pumped-up training aren't nearly strong enough.

The expansion opponents also fear that intensified training on the site will eventually prompt the Army to consider expanding the site -- again. Comments on the draft EIS or requests for additional information can be submitted by e-mail to: [email protected]