April 21 2010, 9:58 AM
Since 2005, the U.S. Army has sought property surrounding Fort Carson's Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeast Colorado, but it has been stymied by local ranchers and lawmakers outraged by the idea that the military might use eminent domain law to seize a massive amount of land. For years, the Army has said it won't use the law but hasn't ruled it out, leading Congress to pull money for expansion activities. Now, Republican Congressman Mike Coffman, a Marine veteran and expansion supporter, is proposing a fix that could eventually deliver a new training area to the Army. Coffman has introduced HR5067, which would forbid the use of condemnation for expansion, a move that would avert the all-out expansion ban that's part of the annual Pentagon budget bill, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. "We must respect the private property rights of those who own ranch lands in the proposed 100,000 acre expansion area," Coffman, of Aurora, says in a statement. "They should neither have to fear that the government will take their land, nor worry that government, at any level, will restrict their rights by making it difficult for them to sell or lease their land to the U.S. Army should they choose to do so." One major group opposing expansion doesn't find Coffman's suggestion realistic. "There's no way to acquire that much land without condemning somebody," Lon Robertson, head of the Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition, tells The Associated Press.