Scott Tipton under pressure: Can he restore Pinon Canyon funding ban?

Ranchers in southeast Colorado battling the Army's grand expansion schemes for the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site watched in dismay this week as a congressional subcommittee removed from its budget bill a provision that has kept the military from acquiring additional land for the 367 square-mile site for the past four years. Now the heat's on freshman congressman Scott Tipton, who promised expansion opponents earlier this month that he planned to keep the funding ban for the site, which is used for training troops stationed at Fort Carson.

"Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton has broken his promise to keep our funding ban in law," declares an emergency email to supporters from Not 1 More Acre!, one of the groups fighting the expansion. "The funding ban MUST BE RESTORED NO LATER THAN this coming TUESDAY, MAY 24, or it will be impossible to save it."

Tipton has vowed to offer an amendment to restore the moratorium on expansion when the bill hits the House floor next week; see this account in today's Pueblo Chieftain. Whether he can get it could be a test of the extent of his juice with the GOP leadership, at a time when senior Republican representatives from Colorado--notably Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman--have supported the idea of expanding the site.

As detailed in my feature "The War Next Door," the PCMS has been a bitter battleground in southeast Colorado for decades. In the 1980s the Army used condemnation powers to acquire 235,000 acres in the heart of one of the state's least-known and most environmentally diverse areas, teeming with threatened species, valuable historic and archaeologic sites--and an imperiled agrarian economy. Leaked documents revealing that the Army eventually hoped to take over up to 7 million acres around the site, as well as reports of ongoing damage from large-scale military maneuvers to historic sites and the grasslands, mobilized locals to form the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition and lobby lawmakers for a ban on funding future expansion.

With the aid of John Salazar and Marilyn Musgrave, PCEOC was successful in turning back the land grab. But both allies have since been voted out of office, leaving Tipton to represent the interests of the communities scattered around the perimeter of the current site. PCEOC and Not 1 More Acre! leaders have criticized Tipton for what they perceive as equivocal statements about the issue and are urging their members to flood his office with calls demanding that the funding ban be restored.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh has sought to reassure locals with a letter pledging that the military has no plans for expansion at Pinon Canyon for at least the next five-year budget cycle. But that placated no one, in light of past Army promises regarding the site, from hints of economic assistance in the region to declarations that there would be no further land acquisitions, that turned out not to be true.

So now the spotlight is on Tipton, who issued this statement yesterday: "My ultimate goal is to reach a long-term solution that protects private property rights and gives ranchers, farmers and the people of these communities the certainty they need to attract future businesses, strengthen and preserve our agriculture production, and continue to preserve the legacy of past generations."

Sounds good. But can he deliver?

Take a trip through Pinon Canyon with Representative Wes McKinley in Patricia Calhoun's "An Unlikely Posse of Politicians."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast