Judge Says No To Environmental Review Of Pinon Canyon Expansion Plan

Area Ranchers Want Military To Seriously Consider Plan's Impact

A federal judge has thrown out an environmental review of the Army's plan to increase operations at a training site in southeast Colorado.

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch in Denver issued a ruling Tuesday overturning a 2007 environmental analysis of stepping up training at its Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.

The ruling said the Army didn't adequately assess the environmental impacts of the increased intensity and duration of training.

The ruling comes in a challenge by area ranchers who argued that the military didn't seriously consider the effects of the plan.

The ranchers, members of the group Not 1 More Acre!, also oppose the Army's proposal to expand the 370-square-mile training site to 525 square miles.

Colorado legislators passed a law this year barring the selling or leasing of state-owned land for the expansion.

But the environmental impact statement addressed just the proposed increase in training and facilities at the existing site.

Matsch said the analysis didn't adequately explore the potential impacts, making the Army's decision "arbitrary and capricious."

It's unclear what the Army will do next.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Denver said federal attorneys hadn't had time to review the decision and declined to comment.

Army officials sued didn't immediately return requests for comment.

Mack Louden, one of the southeastern Colorado ranchers who sued, said he was happy that Matsch stressed the fragility of the semiarid land.

"We're very pleased in the fact that he has talked about the environment, which is what we natives have talked about since 1980," Louden said.

When the Army created the site in the 1980s, an environmental review recognized that land in the semiarid climate can't accommodate perpetual use for maneuver training, Matsch wrote.

The Pinon Canyon site has been used for training about four months per year, according to court records.

The Army said it needs to increase training and expand facilities to accommodate new weapons, tactics and soldiers from Fort Carson outside Colorado Springs, 90 miles to the northwest.

Matsch said federal law requires more careful consideration of the consequences of a proposed action than the Army's review includes.

Landowners in southeast Colorado contend that expansion of the training site will wipe out several ranches and farms.

They fear that the Army will acquire the land through condemnation, although military officials have denied they will do that.

The area's distrust of the Army lingers from the 1980s when the training site was first carved out of the eastern plains.

About half of the land was acquired by eminent domain.

People in Colorado Springs, however, fear the economic fallout if Fort Carson can't expand.

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