On a key document helping the Pentagon decide whether to move forward on a Pion Canyon Maneuver Site expansion, Fort Carson answers potential environmental concerns by touting a partnership with a conservation organization.
But a spokeswoman for the base now acknowledges that this partnership remains purely "hypothetical."
"No group has actually been contacted," says spokeswoman Karen Edge.
Speculation and controversy have swirled for two months over the identity of the organization, whose name Fort Carson officials have redacted from a 40-page "Land Use Requirements Study." That document, sent to the Department of the Army and the Pentagon, lays out an argument for making Fort Carson the largest training ground in the nation.
It specifies that a conservation group will help "ensure the preservation of high value archaeological cultural and natural resources in the area."
The "Army in conjunction with [name of organization redacted] is proposing to establish a conservation area in the Purgatoire River Basin in order to offset the environmental impacts of this project," the document states.
The base is seeking to expand its 235,000-acre Pion Canyon Maneuver Site by some 418,000 acres to keep troops prepared for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the global war on terror.
But exactly where the site would spread is unknown. Fort Carson has identified a 1-million-acre area of interest that includes cattle ranches, slices of the Purgatoire and Apishapa rivers, stretches of highways, a part of the historic Santa Fe Trail and a handful of small towns, including Kim and Thatcher. Also included are parcels of the Comanche National Grassland, including Picket Wire or Purgatoire Canyon, the site of an important dinosaur track site, dinosaur bone digs, ancient rock art and Colorado settlements.
Land would be purchased from "willing sellers," Edge says. Yet she won't rule out the possibility that the Army would resort to the use of eminent domain in difficult cases.
The Department of the Army has reviewed the document, a critical step toward expansion, and recently asked the Pentagon to grant a land-expansion waiver so it can begin necessary environmental analysis.
The Department of the Army did not return a request for comment by deadline. The Pentagon could not be reached.
Theories about the name of conservation organization in the document have centered on The Nature Conservancy, because its name appears to perfectly fit the redacted space. Brian McPeek, deputy state director of The Nature Conservancy, has asked Fort Carson officials if his organization was named, but hasn't received an answer.
"It's possible, because we've done a lot of good work with the Army, that some enterprising bureaucrat thought it might be a good idea to give this to The Nature Conservancy," he says. "However, this is not something that we would be interested in at all."
Late last week, Fort Carson denied an Independent freedom of information request for the redacted text, on the grounds that it is "predecisional" information. The newspaper plans to appeal that decision.
Doug Holdread, a professor at Trinidad State Junior College and member of a coalition that is opposed to expansion of the training site, says it appears Fort Carson officials were trying to convince higher-ups that expansion plans have broader support than they really do.
"This hasn't exactly been a bottom-up, consensus-building process," he says.
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