Friday, January 27, 2012

Combat aviation brigade gets slammed

Posted By on Fri, Jan 27, 2012 at 12:43 PM

Peace activist Bill Sulzman speaks at a public comment session Thursday night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Facilitator Rob Ford is on the right.
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Say your peace: the scene at the Crowne Plaza.

The idea of bringing dozens of helicopters and thousands of soldiers to Fort Carson and the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeast Colorado in the next couple of years got a chilly reception here last night.

Of 17 people who spoke before 7:30 p.m. on the Environmental Assessment of the unit, only one supported the plan: local businessman Jay Cimino. (Others in favor might have spoken after I left.)

Here's the EA: Carson_CAB_Draft_EA.pdf

Held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, it was the third meeting in a week to gather public comments on the EA, which found no significant impacts foreseen from the Combat Aviation Brigade that the Pentagon wants to create at Fort Carson. About 80 people showed up, including many residents from the Trinidad area near the PCMS.

While the CAB would require construction of facilities on post, many buildings are already built. This is strange, since the unit was only given final approval by the Pentagon last March. Those buildings were built a year or more ago, and some have wondered how Carson got approval to spend the money.

Anyway, here are other impacts of the unit:

— Several hundred acres of ground disturbance/renovation/construction at Butts Army Airfield.
— About 2,700 soldiers, 4,000 family members, 113 helicopters, 600-700 vehicles and other equipment.
— CAB training at Fort Carson and Pinon Canyon.
— Construction of seven concrete helicopter pads adjacent to the existing runway at the maneuver site.
— 14,800 flight hours per year, of those, 4,960 of those hours at Pinon Canyon; with other visiting units, a total of 25,000 flight hours is predicted.
— Aircraft must maintain a minimum altitude of 500 feet above ground level unless operating in designated low-level or nap-of-the-earth training route.
— CAB will increase live-fire training by 6.5 percent in both locations.
— Construction will include offices, housing, vehicle and aircraft parking, maintenance buildings, equipment storage, recreational facilities.
— Training by mechanized units wouldn't exceed 4.7 months per year at PCMS.

Bob Kinsey with the Green Party in Colorado Springs noted that a Pentagon report of a decade ago concluded that the greatest threat to national security was climate change. Yet, the Defense Department wants to create a new CAB that would "chew up fuel" and damage the environment, he said.

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Lorraine Paulson, a geologist with the Bureau of Land Management, noted there are 4,163 archeology sites at the PCMS, 948 of which are eligible for listing on the National Registry. "I hope there is a way to set them aside," she said.

Doug Holdread, a member of the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition, noted the Army's efforts to expand training at the PCMS have been "relentless" over the last six years.

Springs resident Bill Sulzman noted the Army has no agreement with the BLM for landing zones, and that the Forest Service agreement has been violated by visiting helicopter units training in the Pike National Forest. He warned that once approved, the Army would make "backdoor revisions" that would expand training area and frequency beyond the current proposal.

One woman spoke in behalf of birds, deer and other wildlife, saying, "We should act as stewards of the land, not murderers. This corrupts our humanity."

A young man, Alex Drowbridge, noted the CAB's $4 billion price tag, saying Colorado's education budget has been slashed by $1.1 billion in recent years, and the nation's entire cancer research budget is only $5 billion. "We should deeply consider the necessity of this [CAB]," he said.

Several spoke generally against the United States' war mentality, including civil rights attorney Bill Durland, who concluded by saying, "Who would Jesus bomb, anyway?"

Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin said commissioners in Otero, Baca, Crowley and Pueblo counties will soon vote on whether to join the Las Animas County commissioners in calling for an Environmental Impact Statement, a more thorough investigation that takes longer than an EA.

Lon Robertson, president of the opposition coalition, noted that while Colorado Springs would benefit economically, southeast Colorado farmers and ranchers "have a right to our private property, to our life and livelihood."

Responding to a warning from the moderator that "posturing" against the war wasn't allowed, Evan Weissman said, "If we were talking about a poop sandwich factory, we could posture against the poop sandwich. The point of this is war, and war is not a clean little noun. The environmental impact is war — the worst possible thing for the environment. I don't want to bring jobs where the end result is bad."

Laurie Holdread said Trinidad accused the Army of making an assault on the community's character and added, "I don't want to become a satellite of Colorado Springs' military-based economy."

Cimino, though, spoke in favor of the CAB and the military in general, saying, the brigade "will help our soldiers keep the peace and keep the enemy from our shores."

Public comment ends Thursday, Feb. 2. A second comment period will open March 22 and close April 23. Carson's garrison commander will make a decision after that.

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