Pinon Canyon foes blast Army's plans for helicopter missions

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Lately, ranchers and community leaders in southeastern Colorado are feeling a bit like the battle-weary Michael Corleone of The Godfather Part III. Every time you think you're out, they pull you back in -- "they" being the Pentagon planners seeking more intense use of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, a 235,000-acre training area for Fort Carson troops in the heart of the region that's long been a source of contention.

As detailed in last year's feature "The War Next Door," the Army's acquisition of the property in the 1980s touched off a bitter legal battle over condemnation proceedings, followed by even more raucous lawsuits and politicking over hush-hush plans to expand the site, despite official assurances to the contrary.

After expansion opponents uncovered documents indicating that the Army had plans to eventually acquire up to 10,000 square miles of Colorado, the state's congressional leaders were able to craft a moratorium on the PCMS expansion plans. The Army responded by increasing maneuvers on the existing site, but in 2009, U.S. Senior District Judge Richard Matsch ruled that the Army's environmental impact study was inadequate and the proposed build-up was illegal.

Not exactly discouraged by all these killjoys, military leaders have come back with a plan for a Combat Aviation Brigade that would be based at Fort Carson and train at PCMS. Last week, the Army unveiled an environmental study with a finding of "no significant impact" at PCMS from proposed training exercises involving the brigade, which includes 113 helicopters.

The military is holding hearings this week seeking comment on the study, and they're getting an earful. At last night's gathering in Trinidad, opponents questioned the thoroughness of the study and the damage a hundred helicopters and other aircraft can do to the fragile grasslands of the area; check out this account in the Pueblo Chieftain.

The PCMS plan, combined with an Air Force proposal to conduct intensive low-altitude training flights over much of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, leaves some residents of the area talking about being in the crosshairs of the military-industrial complex. Here's an interesting take on the affected region from longtime PCMS activists Not One More Acre!:

Another meeting is scheduled for Otero Junior College in La Junta tonight (6-8 p.m.) and a third on Thursday in Colorado Springs at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Comments can also be e-mailed to environmental specialist Cathryn Kropp before February 2. Her address is Cathryn.L.Kropp.civ@mail.mil.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Pinon Canyon 'Working Together' event teaches grassroots lesson in military-expansion battle."

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