Pentagon officials said opposition to the plan prompted the decision to instead use the money to buy 100,000 acres near Fort Polk, La.
“It is a concern,” said Mike Kazmierski, CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. “The military has no reason to be in Colorado if they cannot train in Colorado. If they need more training space, they will go elsewhere to do it, and the troops will go with them.”
And that, he said, would hurt the local economy.
“The fort is set to expand, and if it doesn’t continue to expand, then those dollars will come to a halt,” Kazmierski said. “We’ll lose some opportunity for increased economic activity.”
Fred Crowley, chief economist at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, believes the region needs to study the possible consequences.
“We don’t know what the effect will be,” he said. “We’ve never studied what money people will spend while they’re in those areas, how long they will stay, what they’ll do when they’re back at Fort Carson. That’s information we need.”
Crowley said the news was troubling, because it could affect relationships between Colorado and the U.S. Army. He said the military is responsible for about one-third of economic activity in the area.
“The change represents a significant lost opportunity for the economy,” he said. “The Army is best positioned to know what it needs – but it’s hard to know if this signifies a change down the road. We are significantly dependent on the military’s presence here.”
At least one person, Brian Binn, vice president of military affairs for the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, is optimistic that the expansion efforts are not dead – merely on hold.
“The Army had to make a decision, and there was still work to be done at Pinon Canyon,” he said. “The secretary of the Army said they were still interested in expanding training – but they have to environmental impact studies, that kind of thing.”
The decision, he said, was simply to move money slated to buy or lease land in Colorado for a single year to Louisiana.
“It’s just this year’s budget money,” he said. “It’s not every year. The Army is still committed to Colorado.”
Still, the decision removed $17 million from Colorado means that money won’t enter the local economy.
“That money is going to be spent in Louisiana,” he said. “The jobs for improving and expanding the area will be in Louisiana.”