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Pols flock to Pinon Canyon

by David Tesitor

KIM- The Pinon Canyon Opposition Coalition Committee (PCOCC) held a rally last Saturday to update landowners on the progress being made in stopping Pinon Canyon expansion.  The Army is attempting to expand their training site by an additional 450,000 acres giving the Army 656,000 acres (1,025 square miles) to train its troops.  The site will be larger than the state of Rhode Island.  If a leaked document by the army holds true, the next phases would bring that total to 2.5 million acres, almost the size of Connecticut.

    Saturday′s rally also gave candidates a chance to express their opinions about the expansion.  All the candidates present expressed belief in the individual property rights of the landowner.  Since the Army said they are willing to take eminent domain off the table, the issue of property rights takes on a new meaning.  According to Lon Robertson, president of the PCOCC, if you have a few select people willing to sell their property, while others are not, it will create issues with easements, inverse condemnation, utilities and right of way.  These issues will force lower prices.  You also have only two buyers. the Army and speculators.  

     Congressman John Salazar of the Third District, who serves on the Military Appropriations Committee, has been a leader in the opposition to expansion.  He was instrumental in stopping further funding of the current expansion effort.  A rancher himself, Salazar said, "Without the farms and ranches, this land is dead. You are the true salt of the earth." Salazar pointed out there are only four members of Congress involved in agriculture.  Salazar also spoke about a candidate who is hoping to unseat him, "there is a candidate out there who has been endorsed by a big city former politician who supports the expansion." (note: Scott Tipton has been endorsed by Mike Coffman, whose views on Pinon Canyon differ from Tipton’s)

    There are two Republican candidates running in the August primary hoping to unseat Salazar. Scott Tipton from Cortez is one.  Tipton, a former state representative, has previously voted in favor of legislation stopping the expansion.  Tipton said he would fight "any attempt at expansion."  Tipton cited the Kelo vs. New London decision involving eminent domain.  A taking by eminent domain is designed to transfer land from one private owner to another to further economic development. The case arose from the condemnation of private property by New London, Connecticut so that it could be used as part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan. The court held if an economic project creates new jobs, increases tax and other revenues and revitalizes a depressed area, then the project qualifies as a public use.  Tipton is concerned about the constitutionality of the Kelo decision and stated he would prevent the government from applying Kelo and stealing the land because that is better for the all the people.

    Tipton′s primary opponent is Bob McConnell.  McConnell is a retired military JAG lawyer who has seen combat.  He has stated his conservative values and his belief in the protection of individual rights.  Concerning Pinon Canyon, he stated, "No, never, not on my watch, not without a fight."  McConnell went on to state that there are several options the Army already has in place."  They do not need another acre," he said, "I will hold the army′s feet to the fire."  McConnell recently met with the army to get their side of the issue and concluded, "the Army realizes its approach to developing the site in the 80′s caused the citizens to lose trust, not just in the government, but in the     armed services whose mission is to serve them."

    Other candidates from the area come from District 64.   Incumbent Wes McKinley is a third-generation farmer who has already proposed bills in the legislature to stop the expansion.  Of concern was the potential loss of jobs without expansion, but McKinley stated, "we need to call for accountability in the various departments to balance the budget."  His opponent, Lisa Grace-Kellogg, a lawyer by profession, strongly believes in individual rights and the law as it applies to those rights.  She stated the government seizing land is wrong.  Concerning Pinon Canyon she stated, "No candidate should commit to a position which is contradictory to the law, but my heart is with the ranchers because the law is on their side."

    District 2 had three candidates speak.  Republican Matt Heimerich stated, "A willing seller and eminent domain is contradictory because it is impossible."  Heimerich also stated that he admired the PCOCC for fighting the Department of Defense and "it will be my honor to stand up and fight the DOD with you." 

    Kevin Grantham, his primary opponent, recently toured the area with the commissioners and concluded the area is vital.  Concerning Pinon Canyon he said, "No expansion of Pinon Canyon, period." Grantham met with army officials and was quoted as saying when he had been asked about trading $500,000 in Fort Carson jobs for a few ranchers, "There is no trade.  Fort Carson can stay."  When he asked them how many ranchers do they feel it takes to make an expansion right, their answer was none. "Even one rancher losing his rights isn’t a trade he would     support," he said.

    Democratic challenger, Gloria Stultz stated she supported the ranchers’ passionate opposition to Pinon Canyon and "will fight for your rights and people."

    Dan Maes is running for Governor, and his representative stated, "Dan will stop the expansion by all means."  Scott McIinnis, who opposes Maes, was not present.  He is the only candidate in favor of the expansion because it will create more jobs for Colorado.  (An estimated 100,000 in Colorado Springs-Aurora.)  In an interview on a Denver radio station, he stated, "It′s not about rights, it′s not about stopping the expansion.  It is about Colorado′s biggest employer, the military. To shut the door on them is a slap in the face."  He later went on to say that he will protect property rights but defend willing seller rights.  

    The issue of expansion is not over nor will it be settled anytime soon.  As long as the Army has its sights on southeastern Colorado, the PCOCC feels no acre is safe, which is why they will continue their fight.