TRINIDAD, COLO. — U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner is defending his amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that requires a congressional vote before the Army can ever expand its Pinon Canyon training site.
Gardner told a citizens’ meeting in Trinidad on Tuesday his amendment, approved in June, is a better way to stop expansion than funding bans that must be renewed annually by Congress. Those bans have been in effect since 2008.
Pinon Canyon is a 367-square-mile Army training site in southern Colorado that is adjacent to prairie important to farmers and ranchers. Residents complain that the threat of an Army training expansion has depressed land values and disrupted plans for land improvement.
Gardner’s measure has a backup plan that would require the Army to complete an environmental impact study and receive federal money if the project ever goes forward.
The Pueblo Chieftain reported Wednesday that Gardner said his amendment ends uncertainty over whether Congress would keep the funding ban in the budget each year.
He also told the Chieftain that the Army has assured him it has no plans to eventually expand the training site.
“I don’t think the Army will ever come for more land,” he said.
Some people at the meeting asked Gardner, a 4th District Republican, to openly support the annual funding bans. But Gardner insisted his amendment serves that purpose.
“The only language I could offer that would be stronger is an amendment to the Constitution,” he said.
Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall have, in the past, urged the Army to promise that the land would be untouched.
In 2010, Army Secretary John McHugh gave Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall a five-year letter of agreement that the Army wouldn’t seek additional funding for development in the area.
Bennet’s office has said that five-year promise letter has been renewed each year since.
In March, the Army said it would probably cancel plans for large-unit training at the Pinon Canyon range this year because of automatic budget cuts.
In 2006, ranchers confronted Fort Carson officials over plans to vastly expand the training area. Some of those families still were bitter over the Army condemning and acquiring their lands in the early 1980s to create Pinon Canyon.