In Pinon Canyon, ranchers who have owned their land for generations are now in fear the federal government will take it away.
But Tuesday, a panel of state lawmakers said Colorado should tell the Army that it can't force landowners to sell land in order to triple the size of a training facility.
The Army is examining whether to expand the Pinon Canyon Maneuvering Site, located 150 miles southeast of Fort Carson. A spokesman says they need to expand to ensure soldiers are prepared to win in today's battlefield, so they would add more than 400,00 acres to the 235,000 acres they already own.
"The whole area would be devastated. It would cease to exist," said the bill's sponsor, State Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh. He said more than 600 families would be displaced by the expansion and it would destroy the local economy.
Colorado law gives consent to the federal government to condemn land for certain purposes, such as building post offices or court houses. The bill from McKinley would withdraw that consent when it comes to military training areas.
Members of the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs voted 7-4 in support of the proposal (House Bill 1069) even though they weren't sure if the state has the power to stop the Army from using eminent domain if it moves ahead with the expansion.
"Despite the fact that we're virtually powerless, I believe we should move forward as best as we can," Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said.
Ranchers from southeastern Colorado said the Army hasn't proven why it needs more land and praised the vote. Despite the legal questions, they think the measure sends a strong message to Washington that Colorado is concerned about the expansion and that could make it harder for the Army to win approval for it.
"The farther it goes, the bigger the statement it makes that our Legislature supports us," said Lon Robertson, president of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site Expansion Opposition Coalition.
Fort Carson uses the site to train its soldiers and last month got permission to go ahead with an in-depth environmental study of the proposed expansion. Ranchers worry Army will use eminent domain to force them to sell their land, shutting down ranches that have been in families for generations and hurting area's agriculture-based economy.
Legislative lawyer Bob Lackner, who drafted the bill, told lawmakers he now doesn't think the state had the power to stop the federal government from using eminent domain. He said the state only has a say in whether the federal government has to share jurisdiction on the land it takes.
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