News briefs from the Front Range

Analysis paralysis: Pion Canyon now an election-year issue

Sens. Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard seem to be the last two politicians in Colorado to make up their minds on whether to oppose expanding Army training grounds in the rugged ranchlands east of Walsenburg.

The senators this week joined to successfully amend the 2008 defense authorization and require the Army to submit a report giving specific reasons for tripling the size of Fort Carsons 235,000-acre Pion Canyon Maneuver Site.

The report, seen by opponents as a last-ditch attempt to help the Army sell the idea, also asks that economic benefits and possible alternative sites be identified.

The amendment, if agreed to by the House, which has voted not to fund a required environmental study, would defer a yes/no decision on expansion by the senators until 2008. It also means southeast Colorados ranchers, businesses and politicians failed in their recent hard-fought efforts to convince the senators to kill the measure.

The Army has previously said, in vague terms, that it needs more land because troops are increasingly reliant on technology and more powerful weapons. The Army has spoken of identifying willing sellers within a mapped area of interest, but has yet to rule out using eminent domain, allowing the feds to take land.

The plan has witnessed near resounding opposition from other Colorado lawmakers in the past year. Differences in the two measures are slated to be reconciled by a joint House-Senate committee in coming weeks. MdY

City unveils itsy-bitsy budget

Interim City Manager Mike Anderson has put the city budget on a diet.

In his proposed 2008 budget, the general fund is $235.8 million, or $6.5 million less than the 2007 budget.

And, of course, that means cuts. Hardest hit in Anderson's plan are public transportation and the police department, the latter of which would ground helicopters and cut some non-emergency staff. City employees who are granted an annual salary raise will have their 2008 raises phased in or delayed.

Some kids' programs (especially for special-needs youth), snow removal, economic development and the Economic Development Corporation would fare better.

City Council will review the proposed budget, perhaps modify it, then vote on it. JAS

Surprise: Many peacenik soldiers honorably discharged
Of the 425 conscientious objector applications by members of the armed forces since 2002, 44 percent were denied. That's according to a report by the Government Accountability Office released Monday.

But there was good news for troops mired in the war on terror but inclined not to pull the trigger: Of the 53 percent who successfully ended service for religious or moral reasons, the vast majority of discharges were "honorable" or "general." (Three percent of cases were either pending, withdrawn, closed or unknown.)

Thus conscientious objectors who obtained a discharge were overwhelmingly eligible for benefits through Veterans Affairs. Other factors, such as years of service, would pose additional hurdles.

Discharge for conscientious objection typically took seven months. The process includes a military investigation and consultation with a psychiatrist and chaplain. MdY

Interim CEO in place 'for quite a bit of time' at FAC
Things are starting to settle a bit at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in the wake of Michael De Marsche's departure.

Last Thursday, the FAC announced Shawn Raintree as its new interim CEO. Raintree will replace Jon Stepleton, who for the past month, served as the museum's acting director. The difference: The acting CEO keeps things afloat in the wake of a departure, whereas the interim CEO actually steers the ship "for quite a bit of time," Charlie Snyder, director of public relations, says during a search for a permanent replacement.

Raintree, who Snyder says will remain at the FAC for as long as the museum needs him, "within reason," has served as the founding and executive director of the southern Colorado branch of Kaiser Permanente for the past 10 years.

While that may bode well for Raintree's leadership capabilities, what does it mean for the art side of things?

"Y'know," Snyder says, carefully, "he has an interest in art."

At the moment, the FAC is still determining how it wants to run its new-hire search. Raintree's involvement in that process has not yet been determined, Snyder says. PF

Bijou's back, Cimarron's next
The Bijou Street bridge partially re-opened Monday, bringing joy to commuters and nearby business owners.

The bridge, which had been closed since January, is now a six-lane beauty, though not all lanes are open yet. COSMIX predicts the bridge will be fully functional by Halloween.

But commuters beware: We aren't over the hump yet. City spokeswoman Mary Scott says plans will proceed to close the Cimarron Street Bridge in late October.

City Council gave its approval to the total closure of the Cimarron bridge in order to ensure safety, speed the replacement of the bridge and save money.

The Cimarron bridge is expected to have four lanes open to traffic by mid-May, and the bridge should be complete by late August. It will include four through-lanes, two exit lanes, bike paths and sidewalks. JAS

Armstrong's defrocking closer
The Episcopal diocese of Colorado has affirmed the preliminary verdict of an independent church court, which found the Rev. Donald Armstrong of Colorado Springs guilty of theft, receiving illegal loans, improperly using discretionary funds and other violations.

That brings the rector of the divided Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish a step closer to removal from Episcopal priesthood by Colorado Bishop Robert O'Neill.

Armstrong, who did not attend the proceedings in August, could not be reached. His spokesman, Alan Crippen, has said that the court has no jurisdiction over Armstrong because Armstrong left the Episcopal fold and is now ordained by the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. CANA is a mission of the Church of Nigeria, one of a number of Anglican dioceses walking away from religious authority in Canterbury, England, over issues such as the U.S. Episcopal Church's ordination of a gay bishop.

The diocesean court unanimously found Armstrong guilty of stealing $392,410 and failing to report $548,097 to the IRS; receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans violating church law; causing millions of dollars of encumbrances to church property without proper approval; violating his suspension from Grace by communicating with lay leaders; and failing to maintain accounting books.

Armstrong remains a "person of interest" in a criminal investigation by Colorado Springs police. MdY

Compiled by Pete Freedman, J. Adrian Stanley and Michael de Yoanna.


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