Not for sale: La Junta (CO) Tribune-Democrat, 5/15/06

By Candi Miell

Ranchers and landowners concerned with the proposed expansion of Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado told the U.S. Army and Sen. Ken Salazar Saturday that they want more information and that their land is not for sale.

Wearing buttons with the words “Not 4 Sale,” about 400 ranchers and others who could be affected by the proposed expansion attended a meeting in Pueblo where they grilled Salazar about what is exactly on the Army's plate concerning the expansion and over and over again expressed the land is not for sale to some landowners.

Army officials have said previously they are considering increasing Pinon Canyon up to 1 million acres. Last week, they said an additional 400,000 acres was more likely. Under Base Realignment and Closure initiatives, the Army is closing installations and realigning functions. This could cause an increase in, according to officials, at a worse-case scenario an additional 10,000 troops which would be between three and 12 times a year at the Pinon Canyon site south of La Junta for training.

Otero County Commissioner Kevin Karney said his family's ranch borders the area of interest “And, my family's ranch is not for sale.”

Karney said Otero County, along with Las Animas County, are extremely affected by the proposed expansion as far as economic development issues and he wanted to know when is the appropriate time to discuss social impact and when does the public's input become part of the process?

Mack Louden of Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition asked Salazar, who grew up in a small community in the San Luis Valley, how he would like it if the federal government deemed that the San Luis Valley was great training ground and everyone has to move on. How could (Salazar) tell his children that they don't have a home to go to when they ask, Louden asked Salazar.

Kimmi Lewis, who is treasurer for Colorado Independent Cattle Growers Association and immediate past president of Southern Colorado Livestock Association, said, “I'm a rancher, I live 100 miles from the county seat of Trinidad, and my ranch is not for sale.”

She said at all of the meetings they have been too, Fort Carson has said they have had a stack of willing sellers this thick, she said holding up her fingers to show a measure.

“We have a stack of non-willing sellers this thick,” she said, producing a thick stack of papers.

Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of Colorado Cattlemen's Association said the current 1,928 farms in the counties affected add $270-plus million to Colorado's economy that would be directly or indirectly affected by the expansion.

“Las Animas, Otero, Baca and Bent counties will be economically devastated according to this expansion,” he said.

Both the CICA and CCA have released statements they oppose the proposed expansion and the use of eminent domain.

Salazar said he is cosponsoring a bill with Sen. Wayne Allard restricting the use of condemnation to take land directly affected by the proposed Pinon Canyon expansion.

Salazar also said he did not know any of the specifics of an expansion and was also here to learn as much as he could. One audience member asked Salazar why it is that the audience seems to know more than he does when he, Salazar, is in the “hub of things.” Salazar said he could have spent the day at the ranch with his mother, but chose to have this meeting to gain more information.

Salazar did tell the audience that as he receives information, he will share it with the public and if the proposed expansion does move forward, he will seek public input.

Audience member Karren “Sparky” Turner said when the first acquisition of Pinon Canyon took place in the early 1980s, they were told at that time there would be no more land acquisition and no live fire. Live fire, she said, is already happening and talk of expansion is taking place.

“We were told once, we are not going to be fooled twice,” Turner said.

Another audience member asked why Fort Carson decided to bring 10,000 additional soldiers without having adequate training land available.

State Rep. Wes McKinley posed the question, “How do we be left alone?”

William Armbuster, deputy assistant Army secretary, stressed that nothing has been decided yet. He said there is no proposal and nothing has been taken to the Department of Defense in terms of an expansion.

Armbuster said the voices of those affected by the proposed expansion “are being heard in Washington” and if and when an expansion proposal is presented, those affected would be involved.

He said as progress develops when the Army looks at whether or not to expand Pinon Canyon, the Army may find “It's a dumb thing.”

Audience members responded with “It is.”

He also said the Army may decide to look elsewhere as the process continues, to which he had an audience response of, “Please do.”

Las Animas County Commissioner Robert Valdez and Las Animas County Economic Development representatives said the expansion would greatly affect all areas affected, including Las Animas, Otero, Baca and Bent counties, due to loss of population and businesses. Valdez said if an expansion is considered, an independent organization, preferably Colorado State University or University of Colorado, be allowed to do a study on the effects of such expansion.

La Junta Tribune-Democrat: http://www.lajuntatribunedemocrat.com

Note: Additional information about the opposition to the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site Expansion is online at: