'Willing sellers' claim contested 


Last week, as Fort Carson released a long-awaited map specifying cattle-rich areas where it aims to expand southeast Colorado training grounds, Sen. Wayne Allard announced what seemed to be a breakthrough.

"Willing sellers," he said, are in the region.

The familiar phrase, one crafted by the Army in its public relations campaign to expand the roughly 235,000-acre Pion Canyon Maneuver Site, arose in a phone conversation between the Colorado Republican and Assistant Secretary of Defense Keith Eastin.

"The Army appears to be making an honest, concerted effort to find willing sellers, as they have promised," Allard spokesman Steve Wymer said in a phone interview, adding that several sellers, possibly ranchers, are "out there."

The senator didn't ask Eastin for names, Wymer said, which was no help to Lon Robertson, who is eager to speak with any potential sellers about the harm that expansion could do to the ranching industry and environment.

Since the June 7 announcement, the president of the Pion Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition hasn't been able to ferret out any sellers through his network of fellow close-knit ranchers in the region. Via phone on Tuesday, he said names should have surfaced by now.

"There are none," Robertson said, calling the claim that there are sellers a "lie."

"It's the same play they tried last year, and, if anything, it probably added to our effort," he said. "People are now madder than ever."

Robertson's coalition earlier this year helped convince Gov. Bill Ritter to sign a state Legislature bill that seeks to prevent the Army from using eminent domain in the region. The Army, however, still has not ruled that out, and the state actually may have little power to stop the Army.

Regardless, Robertson said, the Army shouldn't be seeking indications of whether people are willing to sell any land at this point. He noted that Fort Carson's Environmental Impact Statement for the plan won't be complete for another year. The statement will spell out specifics, highlight impacts and allow the public to formally comment on the expansion.

Meanwhile, three major "areas of interest" are designated on the map in parcels of 305,000 acres, 103,000 acres and 5,400 acres. The sections, roughly east of Walsenburg, contain slightly fewer than the 418,000 acres the Army has said it wants.

Fort Carson officials have said the expansion will help the Army train larger numbers of incoming troops using new technology. Yet the Army has declined to make all the documentation for its plan available to the press and public.

On Monday, Rep. Mark Udall, the only Colorado lawmaker on the House Armed Services Committee, said the Army plan should be scrutinized. The Democrat called for an independent investigation of the plan by the Government Accountability Office.

"Before the Army moves ahead much further, we need an objective review of the study the Army used to justify its proposal," Udall wrote, adding that the region is "too important a question to leave to the Army alone."


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