Thursday, August 15, 2013

Udall plays both sides of the fence

By Bob Ewegen

TRINIDAD, Colorado - U.S. Senator Mark Udall, D-Colo., came down firmly on both sides of the fence this week on one of Southern Colorado's hottest political issues -  expansion of the controversial Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, an already ravaged 235,896-acre facility now operated by the Department of Defense.

"Sen. Udall needs to stop bobbing and weaving and legislate a ban on expansion," Jean Aguerre, president of the Watchdog Group Not 1 More Acre!, said Wednesday after reading newspaper accounts of a Udall-sponsored closed-door meeting in Pueblo that featured Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment. 

Udall spokesman Mike Soccone Monday told an Associated Press reporter that Udall would not support a permanent ban on expansion funding, "because it's possible at some point in the future there could be a need for it [expansion of PCMS]."

The spokesman for Colorado's senior senator also voiced support for a proposal by
 Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. 

Gardner has proposed his language to replace the annual funding bans passed by Congress for seven consecutive years that have so far stopped expansi
on of Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.

"The important thing is getting beyond the annual funding bans and providing certainty," Saccone told the AP on Udall's behalf.  That prompted a firm rejoinder from Not 1 More Acre!.

"How can you 'provide certainty' that Piñon Canyon won't be expanded by leaving open the possibility that it will be expanded?" Aguerre asked. 

"Not 1 More Acre! would like nothing better than to have certainty about Piñon Canyon's future. The way to get certainty is for the Senate to adopt language that states explicitly that:  "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Defense shall not carry out any construction or acquisition of real property at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, Colorado; all other provisions of law enabling military expansion at Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, Colorado are hereby nullified."
"Now that," Aguerre said, "is certainty!"

Udall has refused repeated requests to insert such policy language into the annual Defense Authorization Bill, leaving the expansion door open.

Udall had originally planned to have Hammack meet with supporters of Piñon Canyon at the facility Tuesday while closing the door to the public and refusing to allow any critics of the facility's expansion to attend. N1MA! protested what it called a closed-door "pep rally" in violation of Colorado's open meeting laws and the principles of open government.   A petition calling for Udall to open meetings about Pinon Canyon to all taxpayers and the public was posted at 
N1MA's website and quickly gathered signatures from voters in Colorado and taxpayers across the nation.

At the last minute Tuesday, Udall cancelled the closed-door meeting at PCMS itself and substituted a hastily called meeting in a business building in Pueblo -- 60 miles from Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site -- the public and critics had no chance to know about.

The media reported that at the Pueblo meeting Hammack said the Army will consider revoking a waiver to a moratorium on land acquisition that the Pentagon granted in early 2007.  She said the review will take three to six months.

The waiver -- which is blocked by the expansion funding ban -- allows the Army to take 418,577 acres of additional land surrounding the existing Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.  

That 418,577 acres, in turn, was originally seen as a mere down payment on an Army plan to expand PCMS by acquiring 6.9 million acres of land owned by private citizens and the Comanche National Grassland in southeastern Colorado.  The proposed expansion would make PCMS three times larger than any other military base in the United States -- and larger in area than the states of Maryland and Massachusetts combined.  The Army estimated that 17,000 residents of the region would be forced to sell and be displaced under that plan.

"This game the politicians play with the 'wavier' -- the Pentagon's permission to take the first 418,577 acres of the planned land expansion -- is blue smoke and mirrors.  It makes good copy for the media, confuses everyone and avoids writing one sentence into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that really would provide a policy from the Senate to guarantee the citizens of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico of  Sen. Udall's commitment to family agriculture, national grasslands and the health of the last shortgrass prairie that is the Southern Great Plains."

"Sen. Udall is now on record supporting the Gardner plan to replace our funding ban prohibiting spending on any aspect of expansion because it would provide 'certainty' to ranchers and residents in the region.  But in the next breath, Udall admits Gardner's legislation allows future expansion of PCMS.  Our lives, our economy and our futures cannot survive a U. S. Senator playing it both ways," Aguerre said.

"We again ask Mark Udall to use his influence on the Senate Armed Services Committee to add this simple language that will remove the threat of a military takeover of southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico: 'Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Defense shall not carry out any construction or acquisition of real property at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, Colorado; all other provisions of law enabling expansion at Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, Colorado are hereby nullified.'" 


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