Representative Wes McKinley is sitting in a bar in Denver, but his mind is hundreds of miles away -- on the rangeland of southeastern Colorado, that stunning swathe of cactus and canyons and ranches that have been in families for generations. The land that the U.S. Army would like to conquer and use for training, adding to the 238,000 acres it already occupies at Pinon Canyon.
For five years, ranchers and other residents of the area have been fighting the Army at every turn -- but the Army has far more monetary ammo, as well as the support of politicians, including gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis and Representative Doug Lamborn, whose district includes nearby Fort Carson.
The Not 1 More Acre coalition won a small victory in September, when Judge Richard Matsch sent the Army back to the drawing board, ruling that its environmental assessment of the effects of increased training at the current Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site was inadequate.
On November 9, the Army appealed that ruling. But not all politicians support the Army's land grab. Senator Michael Bennet fired off this complaint to new Army Secretary John McHugh: "The Army's decision to move forward with more litigation sends a hostile message to the farmers and ranchers in Southern Colorado: The Army is more concerned about winning than repairing this relationship over the long-term."
And during his visit to Fort Carson yesterday, McHugh revealed that the Army has dropped its appeal, saying that it was the Justice Department that had pushed the move.
Dropped the appeal, but the Army still has its eye on Pinon Canyon -- and so McKinley, whose family has ranched in the southeastern corner of Colorado for decades, is keeping his eye on the Army. And he promises that opponents of PCMS expansion will have some maneuvers of their own in the months to come.
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