New defense funding sets Piñon Canyon limits

The National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law in late December by President Barack Obama, includes language that would ensure the protection of land surrounding Fort Carson’s primary remote test site.

An amendment to the act that was introduced by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, and U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, now requires the Pentagon to seek the approval of Congress before pursuing further expansion of the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado.

The legislation is intended to assure landowners in that area — Piñon Canyon is located southeast of Pueblo in Las Animas County — that if the Army wants to expand the 238,000-acre testing grounds, the Defense secretary or secretary of the Army must first seek congressional approval.

In order for a land acquisition and expansion to occur, the act’s language also requires that funds must be specifically appropriated for such an acquisition and that an environmental impact statement must be completed with respect to the land.

The U.S. Army bought the property on which the test site is located in 1983 with the help of eminent domain, which the amendment prohibits. Since then the Army has seldom expanded due to concerns of environmental impact, noise pollution and public opposition, which finally resulted in legislative action with the passage of this bill.

The current ban on expansion of the site, which became part of the federal budget in 2008, is set to end after this year, which is when the new legislation will become active.