Bill targets military’s use of eminent domain: Trinidad CO Times Independent, 3/20/07

By Paula Murphy

[Colorado] State lawmakers are scheduled to hear about a bill March 23 that would bar the use of eminent domain for military purposes such as the expansion of the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site.

House Bill 1069 was approved in committee and will be heard in front of the full House at 10 a.m. at the State Capitol.

State Rep. Wes McKinley introduced the bill that would bar the use of eminent domain in the Army’s proposal to expand the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) northeast of Trinidad.

The Army wants to expand the PCMS on Fort Carson from its current 235,368 acres, potentially adding 418,577 acres. The expansion would require the acquisition of many private ranches and other properties.

McKinley’s bill would revise a piece of legislation dating back to 1910. The bill would withdraw permission given by the State of Colorado to the federal government to use eminent domain for military purposes.

Governments most commonly use the power of eminent domain when the acquisition of real property is necessary for the completion of public projects such as roads, military installations or public buildings. Some states require that before resorting to the use of eminent domain, the condemning body must make an offer of purchase to the owner.

More than 30 people testified March 6 before the House Committee on State Veterans and Military Affairs. Among those testifying were Las Animas County Commissioner Jim Montoya, who told the committee members of the Army’s past broken promises on economic benefits during the first Piñon Canyon acquisition and of the failure of the federal government to fully fund Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), which were supposed to offset lost tax revenue to the county as a result of federal government land, which is exempt from property tax, existing within the county.

Lon Robertson, spokesman for the Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition (PCEOC) said, “The bill is constitutionally sound. Some have raised questions as to whether it will in fact stop the Pentagon from taking up to one quarter of the state if they deem it ‘in the interest of national security.’ It probably won’t stop that kind of assault on Colorado in and of itself, but it will make a huge statement when our Colorado lawmakers demand to know more and require the Pentagon to secure their approvals first.

“Last week’s approval of the bill by the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, we believe shows how strong our legislators feel about their desire and responsibility to protect the citizens in Colorado and that they include southeastern Colorado in that effort.”

Fort Carson’s Lt. Colonel David Johnson said he believes “Rep. McKinley wants what we want, willing sellers.”

He said Fort Carson wants to make every attempt to get public comment before any decision is made. Johnson said he is “confident that the state’s leadership will render a decision that is best for Coloradoans.”

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army Keith Eastin that contained a list of criteria that Salazar said would be a win-win situation for both the Army and the landowners in southeast Colorado.

The concepts Salazar included in his letter to Eastin:
  • Create an economic development fund that will sustain growth and new investments in southeastern Colorado.
  • Allow grazing to continue on the PCMS.
  • Lease land from private landowners so that ranchers can continue to own and graze their lands.
  • Use goods and services from the communities of southeast Colorado.
  • Minimize any tax impacts on citizens who choose to sell their land to the Army.
  • Allow public access to cultural and historic sites at the PCMS.

Salazar’s letter also asks that the Army not use eminent domain, and protect the cultural, agricultural, natural and environmental heritage of the region. He also suggested the Army “thoroughly consider alternate acquisition sites and smaller acreage levels for expansion” and to make available the plan for public scrutiny, discussion and comment.

Trinidad CO Times Independent: http://www.stpns.net