By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 20, 2009) -- The Army won't resort to eminent domain to acquire land for the expansion of the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in Colorado.
During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee May 19, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren told lawmakers the Army would work with willing sellers in order to expand the training area in southeastern Colorado.
"We have committed that we only want to work with willing sellers," Geren told lawmakers. "We will not use eminent domain."
The training area, about 235,000 acres in size, is managed by Fort Carson and allows for battalion and brigade maneuver training exercises. The Army hopes to expand the size of that training area, located about 100 miles southeast of Fort Carson.
"The expansion of Piñon Canyon is important to us long-term. Fort Carson, when you look at the training range available to it, it does not meet our doctrinal requirements," Geren said. "That means that the brigades at Fort Carson often have to travel elsewhere and that's expensive in order to accomplish that training."
Originally, the Army had hoped to expand the training area by more than 400,000 acres. Geren says that is no longer the plan, but rather, the Army will work with local land owners to see what can be done.
"We're talking about a number considerably less than that," Geren said.
"The exact number of acres ... still remains to be determined," he said, adding that it will be "heavily influenced by the number of willing sellers or lessors that would be willing to come forward."
There is opposition to expansion of the training area by some landowners in the area surrounding the existing site. The secretary acknowledged that the Army wants to work more closely with those landowners to find a solution.
"We got off on the wrong foot with the landowners in the Piñon Canyon area and I acknowledge that," Geren said. "I'd like us to be able to punch the reset button and start over. The Army has a great, long, rich history with the state of Colorado. You all have been full partners in the growth at Fort Carson. I'd like to see us take a pause and do a better job of listening to the land owners and see if we can't figure out a way to move ahead in a win-win fashion."
Geren said that development of the training area can have benefit to both the Army and the areas surrounding the training site.
"The development of Piñon Canyon, properly done, could bring some economic development to a part of the state that is economically depressed," Geren said. "We want to be a good neighbor, we want to have this willingly embraced by the landowners, that's the only way it works long-term."