Udall amends Piñon Canyon land criteria
By Anne C. Mulkern
Denver Post Staff Writer
Washington - Legislation approved Thursday by a House committee puts conditions on any Army attempt to expand its Piñon Canyon training site in southeastern Colorado but doesn't bar the government from forcing landowners to sell.
Democratic Rep. Mark Udall, of Eldorado Springs, added language on Piñon Canyon to a larger bill that still must pass Congress. Udall's measure sets up a list of criteria the military must meet before it can force property owners to sell their land.
"It urges the Army to do everything but use eminent domain," Udall said.
The legislation tells the Army, "Here are the expectations Congress has of you as you move forward," Udall said.
The Army has said it needs an additional 418,000 acres spanning six counties in order to triple the size of its Fort Carson training site.
A group opposed to the expansion said Udall "failed Colorado" because the legislation does not stop the expansion.
Lon Robertson, president of the Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition, said Udall's stance is at odds with 14 southern Colorado county commissions that voted against the expansion, and a bill passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Bill Ritter. That measure, which withdraws consent from the use of condemnation to acquire land for the expansion, doesn't carry legal weight because the state can't override federal eminent domain powers.
The House Armed Services Committee wouldn't consider banning eminent domain, Udall said.
That meant Udall was "faced with the choice of doing nothing at all and letting the Pentagon fumble along ... or putting some markers down with public expectations about the process, including forcing the Army to answer the fundamental question: Why do you need this expansion?" said his chief of staff, Alan Salazar.
Some of the conditions included in the bill are steps the Army already would have to take, and others are measures that the Army has said it's willing to do, said Lt. Col. David Johnson, spokesman at Fort Carson.
The criteria Udall put in the bill that the Army would have to meet before forcibly buying property include: analyzing other alternatives and the effect on the environment, evaluating leases over purchases of land, paying costs for landowners who want to seek third-party arbitration, giving the Colorado governor a voice in the conditions under which state lands could be used for military purposes, and providing a guarantee of public access to cultural and historic sites on the land.
Sens. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., and Ken Salazar, D-Colo., have said they have concerns about eminent domain at Piñon Canyon.
Democratic Rep. John Salazar, of Manassa, said he fears the plan would demolish the budgets of affected counties, which would lose property-tax revenues.
It would then have to be merged with a similar Senate bill.
Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, of Fort Morgan, opposes the expansion plan.
Republicn Rep. Doug Lamborn, of Colorado Springs, said that "any expansion, to the extent possible, should protect the private property rights of landowners."
The House Armed Services Committee approved the bill, which now must go to a vote of the entire House.