Army focused on current land at Colo training site
Associated Press Writer
DENVER – The Army is focused on making the best use of its existing training areas in Colorado and improving relationships with its neighbors rather than expanding the hotly contested Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, a Fort Carson official said Tuesday.
Col. Robert McLaughlin, the garrison commander at Fort Carson, said the Army may still need to expand the southeast Colorado site someday.
“I’m not saying that expansion is going to come of the table, because that’s a big issue,” he said.
But he said for now commanders are concentrating on using the land they have and working to ease strained relations with community leaders and lawmakers in southeastern Colorado around the Pinon Canyon site.
“The hope is that maybe in the future, if we need more terrain, everyone will be on board, both in the military and the community,” McLaughlin told The Associated Press.
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Troops at Fort Carson just outside Colorado Springs do some of their training at Pinon Canyon, about 90 miles southeast of Colorado Springs and 150 miles southeast of Denver.
Pinon Canyon now covers about 235,000 acres, or 370 square miles. The Army has said it needs to add 100,000 acres, or about 156 square miles, to accommodate new weapons and tactics and a proposed increase in troop numbers.
Nearby landowners object, saying that would remove so much land from agricultural production that the local economy could suffer. They also fear they will be forced to sell their land, but the Army said it wants to work only with willing sellers.
Lon Robertson, president of the Pinon Canyon Opposition Coalition, said the Army is holding off expanding only because Congress imposed a moratorium on enlarging the site.
“If the moratorium hadn’t been approved, I can almost guarantee they would be going full steam for an expansion,” he said.
The expansion has also encountered opposition from the Legislature, which barred the sale of state land to the Army for the project.
Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison suggested last year that the Army consider giving up on expanding Pinon Canyon and shift more training to Fort Bliss, Texas.
McLaughlin said he doesn’t foresee the disputes over Pinon Canyon leading the Army to scale back or close Fort Carson.
“I don’t necessarily see that that would happen,” he said.
With Fort Carson soldiers regularly deployed to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, fewer soldiers are training at the post or Pinon Canyon. But when those wars end and the estimated 25,000 soldiers assigned to the post are all home, the Army may have to re-examine its needs, McLaughlin said.