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BULL DOZED 

Why the Army and its local boosters are losing the Pinon Canyon battle

For all its infighting, backbiting and rancor, the U.S. House of Representatives last month experienced a surprising moment of overwhelming unity.

Unfortunately for Colorado Springs military boosters, Rep. Doug Lamborn wasn't in on the bipartisan backslapping.

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Rather, the freshman Republican was on the losing end as southeast Colorado ranchers claimed yet another victory in their effort to kill Fort Carson's expansion plans at Pion Canyon Maneuver Site, east of Walsenburg and about 100 miles south of Colorado Springs.

Lamborn, whose 5th Congressional District includes Fort Carson, watched in vain as 383 of his colleagues voted to prevent the upcoming year's military construction budget from being used for "any action that is related to or promotes the expansion" of the post's 235,000-acre training ground. Specifically cut was funding for environmental and economic analysis a key step to the Army's ambition of expanding by some 418,000 acres into cattle country rife with environmental, historical and scientific wonders.

It's not a killer. The Senate still has to agree with House appropriators in a coming committee vote. Even if the Senate is on board, there's always next year.

But the overwhelming defeat was a surprise in the heart of Lamborn's district, Colorado Springs, which for decades has wielded immense political influence as a "military town."

Brian Binn, military affairs president for Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, was left fretting that, without expansion, Fort Carson could someday fall victim to downsizing or closure.

"Fort Carson is the second-largest employer in the state, and they pump, now, just a little over $1 billion, directly and indirectly, into the Colorado economy," Binn says. "A lot of that is taxes, both local and state, that help the economy of the entire state."

But such words are increasingly ignored as Colorado Springs finds itself isolated in trying to push the Army's agenda and views.

The landslide 383-34 vote highlighted just how much political clout the cash-poor, land-rich ranchers and their allies have gained in the year and a half since Fort Carson's aims in the region first publicly surfaced.

The entrenched ranchers whose slogan is "Not 4 Sale!" have also in the past year found major support in the Colorado Legislature, as well as from local governments, schools and conservation groups.

It has left David Hughes shaking his head in disgust. Hughes is a retired colonel who, as Fort Carson's chief of staff from 1970-1971, argued in vain for the post to expand along the north side of Pueblo Reservoir.

At stake, he says, is the Army's No. 1 national security asset.

"The only product the Army has in peacetime is readiness, and the requirement for readiness constantly notches up," Hughes says. ""Ready' is a function of training."

Lamborn not talking

Leading the anti-expansion push were two representatives whose districts sandwich Lamborn's Reps. Marilyn Musgrave, a Fort Morgan Republican nationally known for her staunch anti-abortion views, and John Salazar, a San Luis Valley Democrat whose district includes the maneuver site and Pueblo, a city already antagonized by Colorado Springs' handling of water issues.

Musgrave, whose district encompasses much of southeastern Colorado, "lined up" the Republican votes, Salazar said in an interview with the Independent, and he commends her for the work.

click to enlarge Retired Army colonel David Hughes (left) of Colorado - Springs believes the Army needs more land for training, - but he feels the military and legislators, starting with - U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (center), havent put forth a - compelling case to this point. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. John - Salazar (right) won a major victory in the recent House - vote halting any study in 2008 for the Pion Canyon - Maneuver Site expansion.
  • Retired Army colonel David Hughes (left) of Colorado Springs believes the Army needs more land for training, but he feels the military and legislators, starting with U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (center), havent put forth a compelling case to this point. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. John Salazar (right) won a major victory in the recent House vote halting any study in 2008 for the Pion Canyon Maneuver Site expansion.

"We figured there would have to be somebody to stand up for ranching and farming families," Salazar says. "We both have agricultural backgrounds, so that's what made the difference there."

What motivated the "rare" consensus on a contentious national-security issue during a time of war, Salazar notes, was that the Army has not ruled out the possibility it will use eminent domain, the government taking of property, should the expansion be approved and ranchers refuse to sell.

"I don't think there's a whole lot of people in Congress that support the use of eminent domain taking other people's property," Salazar says.

He adds that he's visited with affected families.

"We met with farmers and ranchers out there, and I'll tell you, I never saw 6-foot-5 cowboys sit there and cry," he says. "This is really heart-wrenching because they've had their entire family raised on these farms and ranches. It's a pretty tough life out there already. One rancher was telling us that he had his wife buried on the same ranch there."

While Salazar talked about the vote within a day of the Independent's interview request, Lamborn did not respond to numerous calls during the week of the Fourth of July.

Instead, Lamborn spokesman Christopher Harvin pointed us to a July 1 Lamborn op-ed in the Gazette titled, "Army should have chance to study expansion."

Harvin also made himself available for what was ultimately a defensive interview. For example, a few preliminary questions about the vote were answered this way:

Harvin: "What's the premise of your story? Is it about the vote, or is it about the expansion?"

Independent: "The vote is part of it. ... The Colorado Legislature has voted the way of ranchers, several city councils ..."

Harvin: "Have you talked to the Chamber [of Commerce] yet?"

Harvin said he did not know whether Lamborn was surprised by the vote's overwhelming majority, adding that it was "too early" to comment on other issues such as whether the congressman believes agriculture, like expansion, to be a national-security issue, as Salazar said in his interview.

Harvin says the Independent's questions spoke to issues outside the process now unfolding in Washington specifically, whether or not Congress will fund an environmental impact statement. The statement is meant to reveal myriad economic and environmental impacts the region is likely to sustain under expansion.

"We want to give the Army a chance to make its case," Harvin says, adding that Lamborn is normally opposed to eminent domain, but hasn't ruled it out in this case because Lamborn is concerned about national security.

Hughes has closely, and with frustration, watched Lamborn, city business leaders and local politicians lose the public-relations battle for Pion Canyon. Hughes says strong leadership is lacking, and sees it as a turning point for a city that six decades ago offered free land and used The Broadmoor's ample wine and cognac supplies to convince the Army to create what is today Fort Carson.

He wonders if Lamborn's influential predecessor, Joel Hefley, who retired in January after 20 years in office, might have fared better.

"If Hefley was still there, a much better case would have been put forward," Hughes says, wishing the city still had Hefley's years of experience. "Lamborn has got to bring a lot more expertise from the Army not just emotional tugging, "Oh, they are fighting in Iraq,' but hard-ass real analysis of training and what is needed there."

Hefley and Lamborn don't speak to each other, discord that goes back at least as far as Hefley's decision not to endorse Lamborn in the 2006 election. Hefley's objection was that Lamborn attacked fellow Republicans in a hotly contested primary.

Lamborn rolled to victory, telling voters that he'd be able to push the city's military agenda. As proof, he brandished a letter from House Republican leadership promising him a seat on the critical Armed Services Committee, where Hefley wielded significant power.

But the promise has yet to come to fruition.

The Army's needs

In 2005, Fort Carson was spared after the ominous Base Realignment and Closure process. As bases elsewhere shut down, Fort Carson learned it would welcome some 10,000 additional soldiers and their families.

Although all the moving won't be done for several years, the promise and early stages of growth have provided a boon to the Pikes Peak region, infusing an otherwise-tight homebuilding industry with more than $500 million.

To Binn, that's the major argument for supporting the Army's study of Pion Canyon.

Growth, he says, is better than the alternative. While the region's economy wouldn't be immediately hurt by a Pion Canyon expansion defeat, Binn fears a lack of adequate training space could hurt later on.

"I think what could be threatened is the future," he says.

Earlier this week, Pete Geren, acting Army secretary, said as much to Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., in a letter responding to a June 21 query by the senator.

Geren noted that base realignment is already an economic plus for the Pikes Peak region.

He also implied that additional training space at Pinon would bring even more troops to Fort Carson. Across the nation, Geren explained, the Army is looking to relocate five new brigade combat teams each about 3,500-4,000 soldiers.

Geren wrote that expansion elsewhere is "unfeasible" because of the cost associated with moving troops during training times.

Fort Carson needs an additional 418,000 acres to meet Army training requirements, says Tom Warren, Fort Carson's director of environmental compliance and management. For years, the Army has been moving toward smaller, multi-faceted units that increasingly incorporate modern technology and farther-reaching, more powerful weaponry.

There simply isn't enough room at the existing site or on Fort Carson, Warren says.

Moreover, the mostly private ranchland identified in "areas of interest" west and south of the existing maneuver site is ideal because of topography, limited competition for communications from the public and corporations, and its remoteness.

The Army also is on guard for wars outside Iraq. A Fort Carson document obtained by the Independent provided several rationales for expansion, including the possibility of war with China ("Army maneuvers," Aug. 24, 2006, csindy.com/csindy/2006-08-24/news2.html).

Hughes, who was once responsible for ensuring Fort Carson soldiers were trained, says the Army always must be prepared for the full spectrum of war.

"That includes limited nuclear war, which could occur in Korea," Hughes says. "Or mechanized war, as was done in Desert Storm. We sure as hell didn't invade Kuwait. And a third kind of warfare, which we're engaged in, an insurgent form."

Hughes acknowledges those are scary scenarios, but he says the bottom line is American lives.

He pointed to his own 27-year military career, which included war deployments in Korea and Vietnam. He took home numerous medals and honors, including a Distinguished Service Cross, three Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts, while losing many comrades.

When he served in Korea, he says, U.S. troops initially were unprepared for battle. His experiences and the specter of war with the Soviet Union in Europe pushed him in the early 1970s to advocate strongly for expansion of Fort Carson training grounds near Pueblo.

"I always had my heart in my mouth because if we deployed, we'd be half-assed trained, comparatively," Hughes says. "I was keenly aware of the price. Who would pay the price? It would be the soldiers and officers in combat."

But Pueblo County commissioners shot down the idea, which would have given the Army access to the reservoir for necessary amphibious training.

The result was that in the ensuing years Fort Carson, grappling with a training shortfall of tens of thousands of acres, honed in on the Pion Canyon region. It wasn't an ideal location, he says, but it was the best option left.

A nuanced stand

Colorado Springs leaders have offered less blunt, less bold arguments for expanding Pion Canyon.

Lamborn, for example, hasn't taken a stand for expansion, but merely for the latest step in the process.

"The Army should at least have the ability to do an Environmental Impact Study and present its findings," Lamborn wrote in his recent op-ed. He made arguments supporting the idea of expansion, but never explicitly said he supports it.

Harvin says the study would reveal answers to big, looming questions such as how exactly southeast Colorado's economy will be affected. So does Binn, who calls the Musgrave-Salazar action "premature."

"That's why it is important for this process to go forward," Binn says.

Lon Robertson, a southeast Colorado rancher who leads the Pion Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition group, says many ranchers feel that those who advocate for the next step in the process are in effect supporters of expansion regardless of their nuanced approach. And so he criticizes the Springs Chamber, among others, for taking sides.

"A city should promote its own economic development, but shouldn't do so at the expense of the economies of other regions," he says. "It's about a quick dollar, rather than what's right for the nation as a whole."

Unofficial process

Those who back the study essentially trust the process. Those who are critical don't buy it, especially since the Army is leading the analysis and so far hasn't been forthcoming.

For example, Rep. Salazar has for months asked Keith Eastin, the Army's assistant secretary for installations and environment, for more information about possible training grounds elsewhere in the nation.

"They assured me they were looking at other alternatives, but I haven't seen a plan," Salazar says.

In fact, the lack of answers "turned him off" to the Army's approach. The only way he'll support expansion at this point is if ranchers suddenly decided they would sell.

The process so far, Fort Carson's Warren says, has gone this way: Following months of internal consideration amid growing public speculation, the Department of the Army in February issued a waiver that set the stage to allow Fort Carson to study expansion. The Army then issued an official map showing its "areas of interest" roughly 418,000 acres around the site.

In coming months, the Army wants to begin study, a lengthy process in which several alternatives would be considered, including the option of doing nothing. If Fort Carson were to expand, lawmakers would ultimately have to provide the money for land purchases.

It sounds tidy. But unofficially, the process has been a mess; even Lamborn seemed to say so in his op-ed, calling a map leaked from Fort Carson a "mistake."

Over about a year prior to the Department of the Army issuing on Feb. 14 the waiver that allows the process to continue, several news organizations, including the Independent, started to unravel the expansion story.

A La Junta newspaper printed the leaked map showing Fort Carson potentially growing by a staggering 2.5 million acres, spanning to east and south state lines. A Denver newspaper obtained a revised Army map showing a 1-million-acre area of interest surrounding the existing site.

The Independent printed a hybrid of the maps ("Targeting paradise," Aug. 10, 2006, csindy.com/csindy/2006-08-10/cover.html), and expansion opponents printed it on their flyers.

National, regional and local news organizations swooped into the region and again quoted perturbed, sad and angry ranchers standing up for a way of life not well understood along the increasingly suburban Front Range.

Collectively, the ranchers say the state's agricultural economy would lose millions of dollars.

Local governments reliant on tax revenues from those industries and the businesses that serve them came down over and over on the side of ranchers. So did conservationists, who worried about the effects of the expansion on the grasslands ecosystem.

Scientists came along, worried about loss of access to unearthed dinosaur bones and damage to centuries-old native rock art. Historians signed up, saying that evidence supporting a colorful history of American Indian tribes, Spaniards, Mexicans and Americans would be ground out by tank treads.

"I think it's the mood of the country," Robertson says, adding that eminent domain is a national theme whether in southeast Colorado or a large city considering urban redevelopment.

Meanwhile, Warren took the defensive. He confirmed that the 2.5-million acre map was a "planning document" from the post, meant to analyze a "what if" scenario. He didn't elaborate, but says whoever placed the map in the hands of the public had the "political acuity of a gnat."

"I think [releasing it] was wrong, as I said in public meetings, and apologized that some of the public in that part of the world has had to deal with the ambiguity of the government's interest," Warren says.

There have been other flubs, with expansion opponents making hay at each juncture.

For example, in a document that aimed to convince Army planners of the need to expand, Fort Carson addressed potential environmental questions by highlighting a partnership with a conservation organization whose name was redacted from the document. When speculation swirled that The Nature Conservancy could be the group, and the conservancy inquired, a spokeswoman for Fort Carson acknowledged to the Independent that the partnership was "hypothetical" and that the post had contacted no conservation groups ("Fill in the blank," Oct. 26, 2006, csindy.com/csindy/2006-10-26/news2.html).

The latest flap has been over claims by Allard that the Army has identified "willing sellers" around the maneuver site. This would mean the Army wouldn't have to use eminent domain.

Allard spokesman Steve Wymer echoed the "willing sellers" claim last week as an indication that at least some ranchers support selling to the Army.

"The Army has, of course, not provided the senator or anyone that I know of with specific willing sellers or anything like that, but they do assure the senator that they do have some folks at least exploring the option," Wymer says.

The fallout led Robertson to claim that someone had subverted the Army's step-by-step process at this stage, no one should be engaging in discussion of real-estate transactions, let alone conversation.

Robertson's claim left Warren scrambling.

A "couple" of ranchers have approached asking about the possibility of selling to Fort Carson, Warren says.

"I tell them, "There's no way for me as an Army representative or anyone in the Army right now to talk to you,'" Warren says, adding that he doesn't know how the rumor began.

All this leaves Robertson and his allies with little faith in the process. He calls the Army "arrogant in their approach" and adds that the region doesn't need a study overseen by an Army that already has made so many missteps.

"We've got all the information at hand," Robertson says, adding his feeling that the Army appears bound to approve it no matter what it finds.

Bill Sulzman of Citizens for Peace in Space, an organization that has closely scrutinized the Pion Canyon expansion since last year, agrees. He says the Army simply hasn't earned his trust. He echoes the sense that no matter how stiff the opposition, the Army will get what it wants.

"We've won battles," Sulzman says, "but we're still losing the war on this."

Looking for solutions

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., recently has tried to find common ground between ranchers and the Army. He's proposed creating a base in southeast Colorado that would house some 3,500 troops.

"We're looking for a win-win solution," his spokesman Cody Wertz said earlier this week.

While support for that idea has been hard to find, Sen. Allard has not decided whether he supports the House action stripping the expansion study of funding in 2008, said Tara Hendershott, his spokeswoman. Allard is expected to serve on the House-Senate conference committee that appears destined in coming weeks to hash out the matter.

Hughes says the Department of the Army, not just Fort Carson, long ago should have made a complete case for expanding the site.

Hughes isn't alone. Tony Koren, a Colorado Springs military consultant and former Special Forces officer, in a recent op-ed to the Denver Post made a similar point.

"To date, it is hard for anyone to be proud of this situation, with Colorado passing somewhat dubious legislation and the Army watching from a distance like a wary gopher," Koren wrote. "Despite the complexities involved, it is time to begin working together seriously to see what solutions, if any, are possible. There is a good possibility that the Army has a compelling case to expand that goes well beyond the immediate needs of Fort Carson, but we need to hear it and the sooner the better."

Meanwhile, Hughes says it's clear the Army has been outflanked by ranchers and their political allies and, at best, has only lately fought back.

"These have been faceless and voiceless people," he says of the Army supporters. "I haven't heard a strong voice yet."

It hasn't helped, he adds, that the Army broke promises in the past by allowing live-fire operations on the current maneuver site, and even resorting to eminent domain when creating the site two decades ago.

Hughes also takes aim at Colorado Springs-based politicians not just Lamborn, but El Paso County commissioners, the Colorado Springs City Council and state legislators almost all of them Republicans.

"I don't think they woke up," Hughes says, adding:

"They may have blown it already." deyoanna@csindy.com

The gathering masses

The following individuals and groups are among those who have publicly voiced opposition to the Pion Canyon Maneuver Site expansion:

U.S. Reps. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo, and John Salazar, D-Colo.

A majority of the Colorado Legislature

Colorado Cattlemen's Association

Colorado Independent CattleGrowers Association

Colorado Preservation, Inc.

Independence Institute

National Cattlemen's Beef Association

National Trust for Historic Preservation

Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund

Southeast Colorado Power Association

Southeast Colorado Regional Tourism Board

Compiled by Kirsten Akens

Breakdown of House vote

Two of Colorado's U.S. representatives, Marilyn Musgrave, R-Fort Morgan, and John Salazar, D-San Luis Valley, found significant bipartisan support in their 383-34 to deny funding for the study of the expansion of Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.

In all, 58 of the 66 members of the appropriations committee supported the Musgrave-Salazar amendment to military-construction legislation, refusing to fund study expanding the site.

Of the 37 Democrats on the committee, 34 voted for the amendment.

Of the 29 Republicans on the committee, 24 voted for the amendment.

One Republican on the committee missed the vote.

Source: Office of U.S. Rep. John Salazar

  • Why the Army and its local boosters are losing the Pinon Canyon battle

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