Thursday, January 08, 2009

Salazar gets key seat overseeing Pinon Canyon

Pinon expansion opponents happy he sits at a crucial point in the process.


January 08, 2009 01:39 am

Whether the Army ever receives any money to acquire more land around the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site largely will be determined by the House Appropriations Committee in Congress and the chief opponent of the expansion, Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., on Wednesday was named to the key subcommittee overseeing the Army's plans.

Salazar, who represents Pueblo and the 3rd Congressional District, was appointed to the powerful appropriations committee last month and he will serve on two key subcommittees affecting Southern Colorado: The military construction panel as well as the subcommittee overseeing energy and water projects.

"Congressman Salazar will continue to listen to all concerns, but his position hasn't changed at all," a spokesman said Wednesday. "He remains concerned over the loss of agriculture land, the prospect of any property condemnation and the continued opposition of area landowners and elected officials."

Salazar, whose district includes the 238,000-acre Pinon Canyon training area, co-sponsored a funding ban that was put in the 2008 and 2009 federal budgets, that prohibits the Army from spending any money on the expansion. Army officials insisted last July they had money in previous budget accounts to pay for soliciting landowners in the hope of acquiring 100,000 more acres directly south of the current training range.

Landowners opposed to the Army expansion have been waiting for President-elect Barack Obama's administration to take office, hoping that will lead to different priorities at the Defense Department.

"It couldn't be a better Christmas than to have Congressman Salazar on the appropriations committee," said Mack Louden, a rancher and board member of the Not 1 More Acre! opposition group. "He couldn't be better situated to protect the ranching lands around Pinon Canyon."

A year ago, the Army was still seeking 414,000 more acres of land around the training range northeast of Trinidad. But the battle of nearly three years with both state and federal lawmakers over the expansion forced the Army to shrink its latest request to 100,000 acres.