DENVER – A state lawmaker has asked Colorado’s two U.S. Senators to vote against the confirmation of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel because of his past support for expanding the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) in southeast Colorado.
“The next Defense Secretary could very likely have the final say on a controversial proposal to dramatically enlarge the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) in Southeast Colorado,” state Senator Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) wrote to U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats. “I find Mr. Hagel’s record of support for unconditional expansion, and opposition to the rights of landowners troubling, and ask that you vote against his confirmation.”
Crowder’s letter referred to a 2007 vote then-Senator Hagel cast against a measure authored by then-Senator Ken Salazar barring the federal government from expanding the nearly 250,000 acre military installation. Salazar’s amendment was approved by a narrow 47-45 margin, but the issue remains contentious.
When PCMS was established in the 1980’s, some of the land acquired for the range was obtained by the government through the use of condemnation. At the time, government officials promised area residents that the range would not be expanded further.
In 2004, however, a government policy document entitled “Analysis of Alternatives Study: Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, Colorado” outlined the potential addition of another 7 million acres to PCMS. According to a report in Reason magazine, the plan would “displace 17,000 residents and create a military reservation larger than Massachusetts.”
The plan outraged local residents, and prompted Colorado lawmakers from both political parties to take action.
Then-Representatives Marilyn Musgrave (R-Fort Morgan) and John Salazar (D-Manassa) secured bipartisan support for a temporary moratorium on any expansion of PCMS – a moratorium that Senators Udall and Bennet have supported.
“[W]ith the Army still unable to show us why it needs more land, the moratorium on expansion should be extended,” said Bennet in a 2009 press release. “We need to stand up for folks in southern Colorado.”
Udall, who was a member of the U.S. House when the initial Musgrave-Salazar moratorium was approved, also voiced his opposition to expansion at the time.
“Continuing this moratorium keeps faith with ranchers and landowners in Southern Colorado,” said Udall.
While many, including Crowder, have said they are thankful for Udall and Bennet’s past support for area ranchers, they remain concerned that if Hagel is confirmed, the expansion could be back on the table.
“[T]he next Secretary of Defense will in all likelihood decide the fate of the proposed expansion, and with it, the fate of these family ranches,” Crowder wrote. “[I] hope you will make sure that person is not Chuck Hagel.”
Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, a Democrat and longtime opponent of PCMS expansion said he believes that Hagel will face queries from Bennet and Udall about his stand on the controversial issue.
“I expect that both Senators Udall and Bennet will question Chuck Hagel about his position on the future of the Pinon Canyon training site,” Pace told The Observer. “This is a critical issue for Southeast Colorado.”
Udall and Bennet have been under pressure in recent days from both the left and the right to reject the nomination of Hagel, who has been criticized for making anti-gay comments, and for taking unconventional positions on a number of terrorism and national security-related issues.
Neither Udall nor Bennet have announced how they plan to vote on the Hagel nomination, but Hagel’s past support for enlarging the Pinon Canyon adds a new local dimension to what is shaping up to be the most acrimonious confirmation fight of President Obama’s second term.