reopening floodgates to military expansion across Southern Great Plains
Leaders of Not 1 More Acre! – the watchdog group that has spearheaded the fight to save the economies and communities of the last shortgrass prairie from a massive military land grab – have been warned by Congressional advisers that the funding ban that has prevented land expansion since 2007 has been removed from the FY 2014 omnibus Appropriations Bill lawmakers are rushing to pass to take effect immediately. Elimination of the annually renewed seven-year-old funding ban clears the way for another secret expansion plan to be developed to militarize generational ranchlands, rural communities, wildlife and water of the fragile Southern Great Plains grasslands anew.
Not 1 More Acre! and other expansion opponents began fighting for a funding ban in 2006, when a map of the Department of Defense’s plans for a massive 6.9 million-acre expansion of the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site – an area larger than the states of Massachusetts and Delaware combined – was leaked to ranchers. The political uproar that followed the disclosure of those long-secret plans caused Congress in 2007 to overwhelmingly pass (383 – 34) a comprehensive funding ban prohibiting the Army from spending money on any aspect of expansion at PCMS.
N1MA! has continued to fight for the annually renewed funding ban and last year, with the help of supporters across the nation, won inclusion of the prohibition on PCMS expansion in the military construction bill for the seventh straight year. But the ban was imperiled when Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner, whose 4th District newly includes the maneuver site, inserted language into the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Gardner’s language says the Department of Defense is prohibited from acquiring more land to expand Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site unless Congress specifically authorizes such acquisition and appropriates funds for such an expansion. Gardner’s language also says the Army would have to complete an environmental impact statement “related” to such a land acquisition. Foes of expansion note those requirements are already in the law, and ask what the point of Gardner’s plan is.
In several town meetings Gardner held after he arranged for his language to be passed, he said his authorization would eliminate the need for the funding ban. But foes of PCMS expansion argued for keeping the time-tested language of the funding ban. The funding ban provides protection against expansion activities at the existing site because the funding ban specifically prohibits any money to be spent on any aspect of expansion.
In contrast, the Gardner language permits money to be used to fund a new secret expansion planning process similar to the one exposed in 2006. The Gardner language also permits expanded construction and activities at Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.
Colorado Sen. Mark Udall endorsed Gardner’s language without even allowing public meetings in which backers of the funding ban could state their case.
Udall’s refusal to even hear arguments in favor of the funding ban is consistent with the fact that, for six years running, Udall has refused repeated requests to insert policy language prohibiting construction and land acquisition at PCMS into the National Defense Authorization Act.
Udall has also consistently failed to write even the House-passed annual funding bans into the annual appropriations bills.
This week, N1MA! President Jean Aguerre received word from congressional sources warning that the funding ban preventing expansion at Piñon Canyon is not in the Fiscal Year 2014 Appropriations Bill.
“This is very bad news,” Aguerre said. “The funding ban could have co-existed with the Udall/Gardner language and made it much more effective. Gardner says he wants to provide ‘certainty’ to family ranchers. Well, ‘certainty’ for a region that was brutally condemned in the 1980s by the military and its politicians to establish Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, would respect and preserve the hard-earned funding ban. Instead, our seven-year-old funding ban is trashed. Seeing fragile grasslands decimated after hard working people were carted off their generational lands by federal marshals because they’ve been condemned for political advantage, not military necessity, is a raw experience Gardner and Udall should be bending over to prevent from ever happening again.”
On the surface, Udall and Gardner appear to have the same objectives of the funding ban. But the point is that anything Congress can do this session, it can undo in a future session. Our funding ban even stopped any new planning for a future acquisition. Without that ban, Gardner’s amendment sets the Department of Defense free to resume studying and planning for expansion of the site. When everything is in place, the Pentagon could ask Congress to reauthorize the land grab.
“That new authorization would pass like a hot knife through butter as special interests bring pressure to bear in quest of a cash cornucopia for military contractors that will accompany a massive expansion of the site and its activities,” Aguerre said.
Additionally, without the funding ban, the Army is free to revert to its existing rules that allow purchase of less than a thousand acres of real estate or expenditure of less than a million dollars without a planning process. And the way those rules work is that a single sale can then trigger the subsequent use of eminent domain to complete a land grab.
The way to have no eminent domain is to have no money to pay for eminent domain – and the funding ban has done just that for seven years running. The Udall/Gardner language clearly does not provide the same level of protection. Population numbers are exploding at Fort Carson because of the last Base Realignment and Closure commission and the new $3.5 billion dollar Heavy Combat Aviation Brigade, the most advanced integrated electronic weapons system on the market, along with a new contracting battalion and burgeoning infrastructure.
It is also critical to note that the Gardner/Udall language does nothing to stop a massive expansion of military activities within the existing 235,896 – acre PCMS. They apparently do not care that such expansion within the existing boundaries is explicitly banned by a 2009 court order by U.S. Senior District Judge Richard Matsch. Ruling on a suit won by Not 1 More Acre!, Judge Matsch found that the Army’s environmental impact study was inadequate making expansion of facilities and activities on the existing site illegal.
“The fight over Piñon Canyon isn’t just about prohibiting further land grabs to expand the current, already bloated maneuver site – as vital as that is,” Aguerre said. “It’s also about halting further irreversible damage at the existing site that ecologists call the ‘headwinds’ of the 1930s Dust Bowl before a ‘Son of Dust Bowl’ blows new black blizzards across the embattled citizens of the Southern Great Plains.”
The Army concedes that up to 1,200 acres were heavily damaged at PCMS last February during maneuvers by the 2/4 Brigade Combat Team as tanks and other heavy vehicles tore up native grass and its anchoring root systems from the land. Shortgrass specialists point out that reseeding has never rehabilitated lands that have not yet fully recovered from the damage of the 1930s and where diverse ground covers have been destroyed by military maneuvers.
Yet, with the recent sequester of military funds ending, the military will continue its illegal massively destructive maneuvers on this highly vulnerable site. And those maneuvers will intensify the risk of dust storms — in drought conditions that surpass those of the 1930s — rising in this historic “headwinds” area will blow down on the Southern Great Plains burying everything in metastasizing swaths of fury.
“Do we ever learn?” asked Aguerre.