Monday, April 4, 2011

Ever Vigilant

The Pueblo Chieftain
Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2011 12:00 am

THE ARMY has no immediate plans right now for expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, according to the secretary of the Army.

John McHugh wrote Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet last week that there are no plans for expansion in the Army's five-year budget plan. He said expansion is no longer an Army goal. But unfortunately that's not the last word.

Secretary McHugh also has been approached by Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican representing the 3rd Congressional District, about concerns over expansion. Ranchers whose land might end up being bought by the Army cannot make strategic financing plans with the threat of expansion hanging over their heads, and members of Congress representing the region have sided with those ranchers, as has a majority in the Colorado Legislature.

So, while the Army secretary says expansion is no longer a goal of the service, that very well could change with new circumstances. Right now the Army intends to spend $750 million at Fort Carson to house a new aviation brigade, and with the federal budget being as it is, there probably is no more money for Fort Carson's ambitions.

But the fact is, the Army always wants more land, no matter where it has a post. While the current leadership at the Mountain Post and in the Pentagon may not have immediate plans for Pinon Canyon expansion, that doesn't mean new commanders - military and civilian - won't have different designs.

It was just in 2006 that the Army announced its goal of expanding Pinon Canyon to include a huge swath across Southeastern Colorado. But the Army never was able to make a persuasive case why it needed more land there, being that the training range has been used sparingly.

Meanwhile, Southeastern Colorado has a sorry history of promises broken by past Fort Carson brass, defying court orders and even ignoring a funding ban by Congress for PCMS expansion. Rather, with great fanfare the Army promised it was going to do a great deal of business with merchants in Pueblo, La Junta and Trinidad.

That never happened. So it's no wonder that the people of Southeastern Colorado remain skeptical, no matter what the Army says.

It will be incumbent on all who support the vital ranching industry around Pinon Canyon to be ever vigilant to the Army's future intentions. We support the military, but those in charge today will be gone tomorrow, unlike the three- and four-generation ranching families in Southeastern Colorado.


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