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Pion Canyon green light

Fort Carson announced Wednesday morning that it has the go-ahead to proceed with efforts to expand Pion Canyon Maneuver Site.

The Defense Department has granted a land-expansion waiver, a critical step toward seeing the site grow by as many as 418,577 acres.

"This waiver authorizes the U.S. Army to officially begin an Environmental Impact Statement and related study information to support potential expansion of [Pion Canyon]," according to a press release by post spokeswoman Dee McNutt.

The Army will seek public and agency comments "to ensure all interests are heard before any decision is made," the release adds.

Ranchers, whose land could be in Fort Carson's sights, are part of a coalition vigorously opposing the plan.

"The Army has a history of breaking promises to ranchers," said state Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, earlier this week, noting that two decades ago, the Army used eminent domain to condemn holdout ranches that stood in the way of the original Pion Canyon site.

This week he introduced House Bill 1069, which would prevent the Army from using eminent domain to acquire land surrounding the current 235,000-acre site south of La Junta.

The bill could be seen as a legal challenge by the state of the federal government's powers, according to the bill's attached legislative analysis. MdY

'We're going to have to zap you'

State Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, wants everyone to know that if he is not quite as visible as usual, it's because he's undergoing throat cancer treatment.

"I'll be fine," Merrifield says. "I intend to carry out my responsibilities as usual, though I'm told my energy level will be back down to just average, given my usual hyperactivity."

Merrifield, never a smoker, says he felt a small lump in his neck and went in for testing after winning his third term in November's election. He learned the results cancer in its early stages just after his 60th birthday on Jan. 3.

In keeping a full schedule around radiation treatments, he'll continue to chair the House Education Committee. Everyone at the Capitol, Merrifield says, has been "incredibly supportive."

"It's amazing to me to see how many people have come up and said that they've had cancer, too," he says. "[More and more], it's just like you've got the measles. The doctor says, 'We're going to have to zap you, but you'll be fine.'" CD

Pick your poison: HPV or vaccine?

The Colorado Senate's HPV vaccine bill has ruffled some Republicans who see the cervical cancer safeguard as a prod toward sexual activity for the state's pre-teens. If passed, Senate Bill 80 would require girls younger than 12 to be vaccinated against the widespread STD that has been linked to cervical cancer, which killed 3,700 women in the U.S. last year.

Though not mandated yet, Health Department officials began administering the drug this month to girls between 9 and 18. Since the vaccine comes with the Center for Disease Control recommendation, El Paso County's uninsured or underinsured can access the three-shot series for a nominal $15-a-shot "administration fee" through the federal Vaccines for Children program. Shots for the insured go for $120 apiece.

By mid-February, 20 young women had been vaccinated. Health Department employees expect many more if the bill passes. NZ

Vet struggled before accident

Friends of Jessica Rich, a former Army reservist who served in Iraq for nine months in 2003 and early 2004, say she had PTSD and drank to make the pain of war go away.

"It seemed like there was a pretty big group of us who were going through that," says Alan Hartmann, a fellow veteran who says he struggled to become sober two years ago. "It was all due to being in Iraq."

Rich died Feb. 8 when she drove drunk, southbound down the northbound lanes of Interstate 25 and collided head-on with a Chevrolet Suburban. Five people inside the Suburban were injured, none seriously.

Rich's blood-alcohol was .202, more than twice the legal limit according to an investigator with the coroner's office.

Her death comes amid questions at Fort Carson that more than a dozen soldiers were discharged without receiving proper treatment for PTSD. Sufferers of PTSD may turn to alcohol and other substances, according to several studies.

Rich, 24, was discharged for medical reasons in 2005, friends say. Operation Just One and Disabled American Veterans are assisting the family with funeral arrangements. MdY

Compiled by Cara DeGette, Michael de Yoanna and Naomi Zeveloff.

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