Army reaching deal in expansion plan |

Army reaching deal in expansion plan

DENVER ” The Army has found at least some property owners willing to sell their land to expand the Pinon Canyon maneuver site and doesn’t expect it will have to force anyone to sell their property for the project, Sen. Wayne Allard said Thursday.

Allard, R-Colo., said he was briefed on the plans in advance of a public meeting later Thursday. He said he hopes the news eases ranchers’ fears that the planned expansion will force them off their land and hurt the agricultural economy.

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., was also briefed by the Army Thursday but said he still has many unanswered questions, including whether nearby communities would see any economic benefit.

The Army, citing the planned growth of Fort Carson in Colorado Springs and new training needs, wants to nearly triple the size of the site, from 368 square miles to more than 1,000 square miles. The maneuver site is about 150 miles southeast of Fort Carson.

Salazar said the expansion still has many obstacles to clear, including environmental evaluations and congressional approval.

Allard said the expansion would not include the town of Kim or the Comanche National Grasslands.

Allard said the Army would acquire the land over the next seven to 10 years, beginning in fiscal 2009.

Lon Robertson, a rancher who leads a group opposing the expansion, said he didn’t understand how the Army could talk about buying land because Congress has not approved or funded the expansion.

Robertson said if some landowners are willing to sell, neighboring ranchers could feel compelled to sell as well because they could lose access to their land.

He said the 10-year expansion period Allard discussed would mean ranchers might be left wondering for that long whether the Army would try to get their land.

Robertson said ranchers will remain united in opposition whether or not their land is included in a map of the expansion.

“I think it’s probably an attempt to divide and conquer, but we’re not going to abandon anyone,” he said.

Associated Press Writer Dan Elliott contributed to this report.

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