Denver Direct: The Big Map

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Big Map

(from PCMSNO)

New PCMS (Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site) Map

In the long battle over the Army’s plan to expand the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, it’s known as “The Big Map” because it shows the 238,000-acre training range northeast of Trinidad swelling by millions of acres until it engulfs the entire southeastern corner of Colorado.

While Army officials have disowned or dismissed the map over the past two years whenever ranchers fighting the expansion have waved it as the Pentagon’s true goal, opponents finally have unearthed the May 2004 study by Fort Carson planners that explains the big map.

The study bluntly urges the Army to purchase 6 million acres of private land around Pinon Canyon, plus another 1 million acres of Forest Service land in a multi-phase process, creating the largest Army training reservation in the U.S.

The plan puts the land acquisition costs at roughly $1 billion and says that 17,263 people in five counties would be “displaced.”

And the first step in that “big map” calls for the Army to purchase 80,000 acres directly south of the current Pinon Canyon site, which is almost exactly what Army officials announced they would settle for in July.

At public meetings in Trinidad, Army officials said they would settle for 100,000 acres or even less, directly south of Pinon Canyon, rather than continue the battle to expand by 414,000 acres – a battle that had spilled into Congress and the General Assembly as ranchers and their supporters fought the expansion.

The opposition group, Not 1 More Acre, is challenging the Army in U.S. District Court in Denver over its environmental studies of the current Pinon Canyon site.

In pursing that lawsuit, the group obtained the 2004 Fort Carson report earlier this month.

“When we first started showing the big map around in 2006, the the Army’s reaction was disdain,” said Mack Louden, a Branson-area rancher and a board member of Not 1 More Acre. “They’ve been denying it was a real expansion map all along. But here it is, part of a 2004 report, and it says they need 6.9 million acres. That’s the stark reality. You don’t want to believe the government would do this to you, but here’s the study.”

Fort Carson officials on Monday referred questions to the Pentagon, where an Army spokesman dismissed the 2004 Fort Carson report as “silly.”

“We write tons of plans, most of them are never followed,” he said. “That study was never adopted by the Army.”

Lon Robertson, a Kim-area rancher and president of the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition, said the ranchers have made good use of the big map over the past two years – with and without the Army’s acknowledged authorship.

“But getting our hands on the actual report proves what we’ve been saying all along,” Robertson said. “The Army wants an ungodly amount of land down here in Southern Colorado and beyond. And the first step in the big map is the same one the Army has said it will ‘settle’ for today. Maybe the people in the cities will start to understand why we don’t trust anything the Army says.”

The May 2004 Fort Carson study, titled “Analysis of Alternatives Study Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site,” is explicit, saying Pinon Canyon is the most attractive site in the U.S. for creating a “Joint Forces” training area that would allow the Army to use all its weaponry in large-scale, live-fire maneuvers.

The 7 million-acre expansion was estimated to displace residents in Las Animas, Otero, Baca, Bent and Prowers counties.

The study echoes what Army officials have said in public meetings about Pinon Canyon – that planners believe the Army is 5 million acres short in training space nationally. The Fort Carson report apparently recommended the Army remedy that entire shortfall through a bigger Pinon Canyon.

In detailing Pinon Canyon’s assets, the report said the training area has eight parachute drop zones, a 5,000-foot landing strip and a railhead that can handle 165 railcars at a time.

“Given its size, remote location, diverse terrain, and infrastructure, PCMS far surpasses the training experience of any Combat Training Center in the (U.S.),” the report said.

Currently, the Army is prohibited by Congress from spending any 2009 funds on the expansion effort, although senior Army officials said last summer they intend to go ahead and solicit landowners to determine if there are willing sellers among the landowners south of Pinon Canyon.

This map animation was introduced into the record at the DEIS public input hearing Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Part 1

Part 2

Recent Fire (Rep. Wes McKinley, June, 2008)