Trinidad State Junior College was the scene of the latest confrontation in the five year running battle between local ranchers and townspeople of the various agricultural enclaves and towns of Southeastern Colorado and the US Army over the proposed massive expansion of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS). A crowd of more than 100 crammed the Pioneer Room at the Sullivan Student Union to witness the most recent Environmental Assessment of the continuing Environmental Impact Study involving the three decades of Army development of the PCMS. The government expropriation of hundreds of thousands of acres of local farmland by eminent domain in 1981 has left scores of area families devastated in the wake of the creation of the PCMS.
The latest meetings inviting public comment concerning environmental consequences of ongoing Army development of the PCMS have been called in response to a new Army Pinon Canyon Environmental Assessment in answer to a ruling by Federal Judge Richard Matsch in 2009. That ruling declared the previous Army environmental assessment inadequate and cited past failures to protect the fragile prairie grasslands, effectively blocking any expansion of PCMS. The new 43 page report besides "defending and reasserting " Army plans to ramp up training at the site, suggests that any full environmental impact study is unnecessary. The following is from a January 23, 2011 Pueblo Chieftan article.
The assessment report is more blunt, concluding "the proposed action may be approved and implemented without significant adverse, unmitigated environmental impacts. As a result, proceeding with a (full environmental study is not necessary."As to how much additional training can Pinon Canyon withstand, it says "the upper level of training that can be accomplished while maintaining a sustainable environment has not yet been determined."
For the opponents who took the Army to court in 2008, the new assessment boils down to the Army defying Matsch's ruling and insisting it will determine what the historical levels of training have been and whether the training range is being damaged by heavier use.
"Neither Acts of Congress nor the federal judiciary have deterred the Army from moving ahead with its plans," said Jean Aguerre, president of the Not 1 More acre! group that won the lawsuit in 2009. She was referring to Matsch's ruling as well a formal ban on the Army spending money to expand Pinon Canyon-- money that Congress has renewed each year since 2008.
"The Pentagon continues to defy every level of democracy while holding an entire region and its people hostage," Aguirre said in a statement Friday.
After perfunctory and introductory statements from Colonel Robert McLaughlin, the
commander of the Fort Carson Army base, and a facilitator from the Environmental Protection Agency moderating the public comments, the floor was opened to individuals who had signed up to speak. The outrage and sense of betrayal experienced by the concerned citizens assembled in the Student Union was palpable and universal. Most shared and even amplified the sentiments of Jean Aguerre in the Pueblo Chieftan article above. While the comments were ostensibly limited to specific concerns about the Environmental Assessment, the resulting discussion was a wide ranging and eloquent testimony to the past five years of intense conflict between the long time generational residents, local activists and the Army.
While many of the respondents gave expert testimony as to the economic and environmental devastation occurring in the region due to the Army's expropriation of the Pinon Canyon lands starting in the early 80s when numerous local ranches were seized by eminent domain, others simply detailed their painful and wrenching personal experiences at the hands of the Army overlords. Still others questioned and openly challenged the legality and constitutionality of a government which unilaterally asserted its dictatorial claims to the lands and livelihoods of its own citizens. While pointing out the loss of a local feed mill in Trinidad at the cost of several hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to the local economy due to the loss of local cattle ranches, one speaker suggested that the Army tactics were similar to those used in military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Iraq and that Southeastern Colorado had been declared a zone of operations similar to those areas of ongoing military engagement.
Indeed the progressive militarization of civil society is nowhere more in evidence than the plains of Southeastern Colorado where some of the most "conservative" and staunch supporters of the military have been transformed into its most adamant and vocal opponents. The resulting radicalization of this heartland rural populace accomplished by the unrestrained, coercive and illegal military intervention poses some interesting questions as to the real agenda of the Pentagon in the Pinon Canyon and beyond. One respondent even went so far as to quote Army documents which purportedly welcomed the opportunity provided by the PCMS expansion to isolate, surround, and employ remote towns as staging areas for military and paramilitary operations.
The recent resolution passed by the Trinidad City Council to enter into a "partnership"with the Army has further roiled the already volatile conflict between the opponents of PCMS expansion and the Army. The resolution, suggesting and implying a crucial level of cooperation between the council and Army objectives in the region reinforced the prevailing view among resident activists of betrayal and marginalization not only by the Army but by their elected representatives. The resolution reads as follows:
“A resolution of the city council of the city of Trinidad, Colorado, declaring the city’s general support of partnerships and programs that enhance the strength, resilience and readiness of United States military service members and their families. Whereas, the city council of the city of Trinidad, Colorado recognizes the steadfast commitment that United States military service members and their families are making on a daily basis. And, whereas the city council further recognizes that the strength of United States military service members and their families is supported by the strength of their home communities and communities surrounding their current duty stations, and, whereas, on behalf of the citizens of Trinidad, Colorado, the city council desires to declare its general support of partnerships and programs that enhance the strength, resilience and readiness of United States military service members and their families. Now therefore be it resolved by the city council of the city of Trinidad, Colorado, that, one, a declaration of support on behalf of the citizens of Trinidad, Colorado, the city council hereby declares its support of partnerships and programs that enhance the strength, resilience and readiness of United States military service members and their families.”
Though enthusiastically welcomed by the Army, the resolution was passed without debate and significant public input, and with the recent Army environmental release has only exacerbated concerns about not only the further expansion of the PCMS, but the increasing levels of military activity in Southeastern Colorado. A waiver granted to the Army by Congress concerning the significant environmental degradation at the site further opening up the possibility of virtually unlimited expansion of the PCMS and the ongoing expropriation of local landowners was addressed the Council meeting by Doug Holdread.
“If everybody gets together, we can get this waiver rescinded,” Holdread said. “Once the waiver is terminated I think we can get back to a place where we can all talk to each other again. Until that waiver is terminated, we don’t want to do anything that will misrepresent Trinidad or Las Animas County.”
At the very least, the implications of such rampant domestic military provocations conducted in the name of national security raise serious questions as to the actual aims and objectives of the government in dealing with its own citizenry. These disturbing questions seem to be quite unequivocally answered in the very real and serious consequences of the pending and real US military occupation of Southeastern Colorado so drastically impacting the lives of its farmers, ranchers and residents. One of the many speakers, decked out in black cowboy hat and blue jeans, seemed to speak for many of those present as he read the oath to the Constitution, laboriously copied onto several 3x5 note pad pages, to the Army commander and his adjutants, pointedly asking them how they could so obviously dishonor this oath and especially those in attendance with their unwelcome presence.
Ps. it has just come to our attention that El Paso County has just eclipsed Denver County in population, largely due to the astounding influx of some 80,000 soldiers over the past several years to Fort Carson near Colorado Springs. Posse Comitatus seems moot at this point