A case of national defense vs. property rights in Colorado.  Or is it?
Not One More Acre!  Ranchers in Colorado’s Piñon Canyon fight a massive Army land grab.

The Army already occupies 245,000 acres of Colorado’s desolate Piñon Canyon, which it uses for large-scale, force-on-force mechanized brigade combat exercises involving tanks and armored units. But since 2006 Uncle Sam has had his eye on at least 418,000 acres more, to handle increased demand for maneuvers and the expansion of Fort Carson.

It’s private property:

Most of that land is private property in the Comanche National Grasslands lying between the rustic ranching towns of La Junta, Trinidad, and Walsenburg. The proposed annexation, which would create a contiguous Army-owned area 85 percent the size of Rhode Island, has attracted loud opposition from local landowners, environmentalists, scientists, and politicians. Their combined efforts were enough to gain a congressionally ordered reprieve in 2007, but the Army appears determined to wear them down. In fact, the training ground expansion may be just the first phase of an enormous land grab potentially involving millions of acres.

Some history:

The current Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site is 245,000 acres along and around the Purgatoire River. It was taken, or purchased after eminent domain proceedings, in September 1983 at a cost of about $26 million ($53.5 million in current dollars) plus $2 million ($4.1 million today) for relocating dozens of ranchers and their families. Southeast Coloradans were promised two things in 1983: There would be no further expansion, and the PCMS would not be used for live-fire exercises. “I reiterate there will be no live firing at [PCMS],” a major general at Fort Carson wrote to a participant at one of the preliminary public hearings on the initial Piñon Canyon seizures, in a letter dated July 30, 1980.

But neither promise has been kept. And some of the same people in the Army’s sights now had their ranch land taken a quarter-century ago.

It’s a matter of convenience:

Army spokesman Dave Foster says the area is needed to expand the PCMS partly because the number of soldiers stationed at Fort Carson, the base for the units that use the training ground, will grow from 16,000 to 25,000 during the next two years. “Changes to unit organization in the past year, upgrades to technology, and a decision to add a fifth [brigade combat team] have all pushed the doctrinal training land requirements up, not down, at Fort Carson,” Foster says. As for why the Army doesn’t use some of the copious land it already has, Foster says in many cases the terrain isn’t right or the land is subject to federal restrictions preventing it from being used for training. What it really boils down to, he admits, is convenience.

“In order to support Fort Carson–based soldiers, other federal lands must not only be suitable and available, they must also be within 200 miles of Fort Carson/PCMS,” Foster says. “If the federal lands are further away than 200 miles, the burden on soldiers and families to use the land regularly for home-station readiness training purposes becomes so great that the Army would be forced to consider re-aligning units away from Fort Carson and to other installations with closer facilities.” He adds, “There are a handful of federal landholdings…that the Army is investigating further, [but] none of these are assured or problem-free. Securing permission from other federal agencies to train on these lands is a lengthy and difficult process.” In other words, it’s easier to take property from private owners than it is to use land held by other branches of the government.

You should read the whole thing if you’re interested in learning how the government uses its power of eminent domain.  Some politician may decide he wants your property tomorrow.  As is shown in this article, he’ll probably get it.

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