Letters to the Editor

Coffman wrong on Piñon Canyon

Dear Editor,

Congressman Mike Coffman is accusing gubernatorial candidate and state Senator Josh Penry of being anti-military. As proof, he puts forward Penry’s vote for HB 1317, a bill that prohibits the State Land Board from selling school designated sections to the Army for the purpose of expanding the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site.

But Penry’s vote for HB 1317 is far from anti-military.

First of all, it’s important to consider what the legislation actually says. It does not, as Coffman misrepresents it, “bar the United States Army from receiving the additional training areas it has requested in Piñon Canyon.” It doesn’t “bar” the Army from anything. What HB 1317 actually does is put the State of Colorado in the category of an “unwilling seller,” along with those of us in Southeastern Colorado who are unwilling to sell our productive agricultural land to the federal government so that it can be turned into the world’s largest live-fire range.

Coffman makes it sound like Penry was somehow out of line in voting for the bill. In fact, Penry voted with the majority of his Senate colleagues in a 25-to-9, bipartisan vote in favor of the legislation. He and the other senators were voting to protect state lands that were set aside for the exclusive purpose of supporting education when Colorado became a state. For 100 years, these school sections have provided a constant revenue stream to education in our state, mostly through grazing leases. The federalization of these lands would mean that increased taxes would have to make up for their loss.

In HB 1317, the State of Colorado isn’t telling the military what it can or can’t do, nor is the State of Colorado telling private property owners what they can or can’t do. But the State of Colorado does have a right — even a responsibility — to exercise good stewardship over state lands. That’s what Penry was doing in voting for HB 1317. And we are grateful to him and both political parties who are fighting to protect our state and private lands through such legislation as HB 1317.

Coffman also says that because Colorado is unwilling to federalize more of our state lands (34 percent is already federalized), our soldiers are not being adequately trained. Officials at Fort Carson say just opposite, asserting that training there is top notch. But if Coffman is correct, then it’s a management problem within the Department of Defense. That would mean that with more than 25 million acres of U.S. land under its control, it isn’t using its resources adequately.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, recently admonished the former assistant secretary of the Army for not fully utilizing the training ground already owned in his state. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also says that
there is adequate space on current military installations in Texas, thus no need to pursue the Piñon Canyon expansion.

There is no true net benefit from an expansion of PCMS, only a net loss to the state and the country. Despite the fear tactics and the empty threat that “Fort Carson will leave” [without the expansion] there will be no discernable change in the current use of PCMS or Fort Carson. So, if an expansion of Piñon Canyon goes forward, the only result of note will be the elimination from Colorado of more than 18,000 people, their homes, their jobs, their history and their culture. Just like Scott McInnis, Coffman is on the wrong side of this issue, and Penry represents the majority view.

Lon Robertson, President
Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition