Land grab gives Army bully image: Land grab gives Army bully image: Denver CO Post, 2/18/07, 2/18/07

By David Harsanyi

When the United States Army informs you it's looking to expand - believe it.

Last week, the Pentagon gave Fort Carson a pass from a 16-year-old moratorium prohibiting major land acquisitions.

According to a news release, Fort Carson "intends to initiate efforts to potentially acquire up to 418,577 acres for the expansion of the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site" to get the job done.

That's the size of ... well, it's freaking huge - a tripling of the present size of the Fort Carson training site.

New military technology and modern warfare mean the Army needs more land. But Coloradans must ask themselves: at what price?

Of the many prospective problems that come to mind - both environmental and economic - the most disquieting to the average citizen should be the way government obtains land in these situations: They take it.

It's a governmentwide addiction called eminent-domain abuse.

Right now, for instance, half of Fort Carson's land consists of acreage that was originally seized through condemnation of property and eminent domain.

It's hard to believe that the new massive expansion can be patched together in alternative ways. Especially because many locals have no intention of selling their land.

Lon Robertson, a local rancher and president of the Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition, is doing what he can to stop the expansion.

Robertson claims that the Army's plan has already damaged local property values as sales of ranches have fallen through and locals have stopped taking care of their property.

"There are a lot of people that, even if they wanted to sell - and we're not saying they shouldn't have the right - are not selling in a fair market," he argues. "The only buyer now is the Army. Values have decreased because when people know that the Army is going to buy, they also know no one else will."

The Army has done its public relations best to put a smiley face on the situation. It maintains that it will first try to acquire land from willing sellers and investigate leasing land.

But they have never taken eminent domain or condemnation off the table.

"My father once told me he fought for a lot of things during World War II, but this was not one of them," Robertson recalls. "This is our land and our heritage. And that's the case with the majority of people around here. We have families around here going back four and five generations. This is their land and their ranches. It's a way of life, and it's important that it continue."

So what are our legislators doing about this situation in Washington?

Robertson says that he was hopeful Sens. Wayne Allard and Ken Salazar would take the lead in protecting their land. He's been disappointed.

Allard is a lame duck.

Salazar, in his characteristic equivocation, claimed that he was "concerned" that if the expansion goes forward, "we need to protect private property and the economic health of the region."

Robertson tells me that it's been too easy for a senator to be "concerned" about eminent domain and not take concrete steps to stop it.

"What they should be saying is that eminent domain shouldn't be considered at all," he states. "It's their responsibility to pull in the reins of government."

The locals, he points out, have been particularly grateful for the work of Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave and state Rep. Wes McKinley.

It should be noted that no one knows exactly what the Army plans to do.

That's why Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition filed papers in U.S. District Court demanding that the Army respond to its Freedom of Information Act requests.

Our representatives in Washington must guarantee that these people are treated fairly. Because, as Robertson says:

"Ultimately, it's un-American."

Denver CO Post: http://www.denverpost.com