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Illegal motion? 

With lawsuit, opponents aim to squelch Army expansion

The Army's plans to upgrade its training grounds in southeast Colorado sounded simple.

During a time of war, the imminent arrival of thousands of new Fort Carson troops meant Pion Canyon Maneuver Site would need a facelift. Soldiers would need a weapons course, an air-support complex, medical facilities, a dining hall for up to 1,300 people and more even a child development center.

But on Wednesday, ranchers adamantly opposed to Army plans for expansion into private and public lands around the site took the proverbial bull by the horns.

Not 1 More Acre!, a nonprofit group concerned for the region's ecology and economy, joined three Pion Canyon area residents in filing a lawsuit intended to stymie the Army's plan. At question is whether already-approved construction projects are key to the Army's proposal to nearly triple the size of the 235,000-acre site.

Filed in Colorado's U.S. District Court, the suit claims Fort Carson has violated the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. When the post considered construction projects, it should have also presented its expansion goals to the public, according to the suit.

The suit also argues Fort Carson failed to consider a range of reasonable alternatives and locations, as required by law, to minimize environmental harm. By law, the Army has 60 days to file its initial reply.

Stephen Harris, a Colorado Springs environmental attorney representing Not One More Acre!, says Fort Carson considered only two choices: no action and construction.

"In 15 years of NEPA cases, I've never seen an agency take the position [that] there are no alternatives," Harris says.

The goal of the suit, he adds, is to force the Army to scrap its current plans and to reveal exactly what it seeks to do inside and outside the current training site. He is prepared to file an injunction to stop any construction if needed.

Fort Carson officials refused to comment on the suit, citing its status as active litigation.

Jean Aguerre, a plaintiff, resident of the region and founder of Not One More Acre!, says the Army divided a single and massive expansion project into pieces in order to avoid disclosing environmental impacts to the public.

"They're avoiding telling us what they want, because what they want would never fly in Colorado," says Aguerre.

Apprised of that statement on Wednesday morning, Fort Carson spokeswoman Karen Linne replied, "That's her opinion, and she's certainly entitled to one."

Linne declined to elaborate.

The region is home to dinosaur bones and footprints, ancient rock-art drawing, sensitive grasslands and 15 "endangered species."

Aguerre says scientists are eager to fully catalog the region's resources, particularly within the "area of interest" where Fort Carson hopes to acquire land.

The Army's plans to enlarge the maneuver site became public in piecemeal fashion. A map leaked to a La Junta newspaper in April 2006 showed the site potentially expanding by as many as 2.5 million acres. Fort Carson admitted the map was an authentic planning document and later confirmed a modified, but vague, map of roughly 418,000 acres around the existing site.

In August 2006, the Independent reported that Fort Carson's ambitions to enlarge the site dated as far back as April 2005. Army documents obtained by Not One More Acre! now trace ideas of expanding the site to late 2003.

deyoanna@csindy.com

  • Pion Canyon ranchers and supporters have taken the bull by the horns.

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