Pinon Canyon expansion battle: Will troop reductions help or hurt?

As the Pentagon contemplates different ways to achieve reductions in force in the ramp-down from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, business leaders in Colorado Springs are pushing for a plan that would actually bring more troops to Fort Carson -- while ranchers battling expansion of a maneuver site in southeastern Colorado are urging supporters to oppose that scenario, saying it's time to develop a regional economy less dependent on the military.

The Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition and Not 1 More Acre!, two grassroots organizations that have battled the Army for years over its plans to expand the 235,000-acre Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, want citizens to send some last-minute Valentines to Uncle Sam this week, urging the rejection of any plan that would bring more troops to the area. Public comments on the environmental assessment outlining the possible troop realignment schemes are due no later than February 17.

Under one proposal, as explained in this item from the Colorado Springs Business Journal, Fort Carson could end up with 8,000 fewer soldiers posted there -- a downsizing that has folks in El Paso County fretting over the economic hit that would be suffered by local retail and housing interests. But an alternative that would have the post seeing a net gain of 3,000 soldiers from the realignment has the Pinon Canyon opponents up in arms over increased activity on the site, renewing the threat of possible expansion.

As detailed in my 2011 feature "The War Next Door," the battle over Pinon Canyon dates back to the Army's acquisition of the property in the 1980s, using powers of eminent domain, in order to expand the training capacity for troops stationed at Fort Carson. Despite official assurances to the contrary, locals eventually learned of a hush-hush Pentagon plan to acquire up to 10,000 square miles of southern Colorado and lobbied successfully for a congressional moratorium prohibiting expansion of the site.

Frustrated in the effort to increase its area of operations, the Army responded by making more intense use of the existing site -- prompting lawsuits and protests over environmental damage and the threats posed by heavy equipment and helicopters to historic and archaeological treasures on the site. Plans for combat aviation brigade training at the site, coupled with a contentious Air Force proposal to conduct intensive low-altitude training flights across much of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, prompted Not 1 More Acre! to develop this map of the besieged area:

In an e-mail, PCEOC activists urge supporters to send comments on the environmental assessment that point out the need for a more diversified economy in southern Colorado, the benefits to the environment of scaling down maneuvers on the existing site -- and, of course, noting that "a troop reduction at Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site would have an overall positive public relations effect for the Army in the region."

Comments regarding the assessment can be emailed to USARMY.JBSA.AEC.MBX@mail.mil by no later than February 17.

More from our News archive: "Leaked documents show Army's bold plan to acquire 10,000 square miles of Colorado."

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