U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman criticized gubernatorial candidate Josh Penry for his position on Piñon Canyon expansion in the Oct. 23 issue of The Colorado Statesman. Coffman’s arguments rest on two points — that the Piñon Canyon expansion is necessary to properly train our troops, and that the Army would not use eminent domain to expand Piñon Canyon.
Neither argument is sound.
The expansion of Piñon Canyon is not necessary to properly prepare our men and women in uniform. The Department of Defense controls approximately 25 million acres nationwide. This land is not fully utilized. For instance, in a Feb. 24 House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, stated that the 1.7 million acre Dugway Proving Grounds is “underutilized.” Weeks later, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, made a similar point about Fort Bliss.
Coffman has dismissed these criticisms as the panderings of politicians who want the federal dollars that accompany troop assignments. He omits that in Utah and Texas, training would not require federalizing private land and eliminating private businesses.
Coffman states that his position on the House Armed Services Committee obligates him to make sure our military is adequately equipped and trained to defend our interests. He could start by making sure the Department of Defense effectively and efficiently uses the 25 million acres it already controls. To date, the department has not responded to a congressional request for an inventory and evaluation of land assets made in Section 366 of the 2003 National Defense Authorization Act.
Reports from a variety of sources criticize Army land use and acquisition methods because the process is upside down. Rather than starting with a nationwide assessment of land assets and their utilization, each installation proposes its land needs. Reports that point to this problem include a 1999 Rand report entitled “Does the Army Have a National Land Use Strategy?,” Government Accounting Office reports GAO/NSIAD-90-44BR and GAO/NSIAD-91-103, and Army Audit Agency Report AA 98-92.
Planning upward from the installation level drives inter-base rivalries and politicizes the planning of military training. Politicians intercede to bring federal money to their regions. The mission of our military is national defense, not economic subsidy of local economies.
Coffman’s assertion that the Army has abandoned the use of eminent domain lacks historical perspective. History in southeast Colorado illustrates that statements from the Army regarding condemnation are temporary. In 1981, the Army stated they had “willing sellers” and would not condemn private land in order to create Piñon Canyon. Two years later, in 1983, most of the 243,710-acre parcel was condemned.
Also in the early 1980s, the Army said it would not expand Piñon Canyon, it would not use live fire and it would make full payment in lieu of property taxes on the Piñon Canyon parcel. It later reversed its position on all those statements.
The Army position on condemnation also has flip-flopped regarding expansion. In February 2006, the Army took condemnation off the table. In May 2006, it put it back on the table. Recently, it is back off the table.
Would you have confidence in the latest bureaucratic position on condemnation if your community, your land, your lifestyle and your business were at stake?