Pinon Canyon expansion foes sue Army over information requests

By JON SARCHE Associated Press Writer

DENVER (AP) -- Opponents of a plan to nearly triple the size of a military training site in remote southeastern Colorado sued the Army on Friday, claiming it has failed to provide information requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

An attorney for the group Not 1 More Acre said the group needs documents from Fort Carson on the proposed expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site to comment "effectively and fully" on a draft environmental study of the proposal released in October.

In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, attorney Stephen Harris asked a judge to rule that the Army has violated the Freedom of Information Act and order it to provide all the records the group is seeking.

Fort Carson spokesman Lt. Col. David Johnson did not immediately return a call.

On Wednesday, Fort Carson announced it had won a waiver from a Defense Department moratorium on major land acquisitions, allowing it to take the first steps in an in-depth environmental study of the proposed expansion.

Fort Carson, which is projected to grow from about 16,000 troops to about 25,000 by 2009, wants to add 654 square miles to the 368-square-mile Pinon Canyon site about 150 miles southeast of the post near Colorado Springs.

Army officials said no decisions have been made, and members of Colorado's congressional delegation said so far, the Army has not asked for funding for land acquisitions.

The proposal to expand Pinon Canyon to an area slightly smaller than Rhode Island has drawn stiff opposition from area landowners who fear economic harm and the possibility that the Army might condemn their ranches and farms.

"What do they need to do on this land that they can't do on the 25 million acres around the nation they (the military overall) already have?" said Lon Robertson, a Kim-area rancher and spokesman for Not 1 More Acre!

The lawsuit said the group filed five requests for records between Dec. 11 and Dec. 14. Fort Carson officials told the group that one request had been forwarded to a different agency, but the lawsuit said it had received no response to the other four requests, despite an Army regulation requiring some response within 20 days of a Freedom of Information Act request.

The lawsuit said the group needed the information to prepare comments on a draft environmental impact statement that was released in October.

It sought records describing the environmental effects of military training activities on the site since 1980 and correspondence about the site between the Army and state and federal wildlife and land-management agencies. The group also had asked for specific documents on the effects of training operations on cultural and fossil resources such as dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs in the area. ------

On the Net:

Fort Carson: http://www.carson.army.mil/

Expansion opposition group: http://www.pinoncanyon.com