by Pam Zubeck
Area legislators and El Paso County commissioners spent some time at a joint meeting Wednesday morning blasting anyone who doesn't embrace the military and all of its apparent economic development benefits.
Starting the discussion was Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, who noted Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, might propose a bill banning military flights over Southern Colorado.
At issue are the Air Force’s proposed low-altitude tactical navigation flights over southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. The service would use C-22 Ospreys and C-130 Hercules turboprop aircraft from Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, N.M., in roughly three training flights per day, with most happening at night and during the week.
The Trinidad Times has reported that some ranchers report their cattle already have been spooked and injured as they stampeded through barbed-wire fences due to low-flying military aircraft. The newspaper also reported that the Colorado Division of Wildlife has raised concerns about low-flying training flights, saying some species will be directly impacted.
“So, if the (DOW) is concerned about the impacts to wildlife," the Times quotes McKinley as saying, "then we definitely ought to be concerned about the impacts to our (domestic) animal welfare.”
Military backers in Colorado Springs support the Air Force proposal, and on Wednesday Gardner vowed that McKinley's bill "is DOA."
Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, chimed in, saying, "We'll figure out what committee of reference to send that bill to." That's a sly way of saying he, as part of the House majority, will doom the bill by assigning it to a committee where it will die.
Waller noted the military is Colorado's second largest employer, behind the state government itself. "We're going to do everything we can this session to be sure we send the right message," he said, referring to reports from the Pentagon that the armed forces don't feel welcome in Colorado anymore, largely due to the Piñon Canyon dispute. The Army wants to expand the training area for Fort Carson troops' use, while ranchers and landowners in that southeast Colorado territory vehemently oppose the idea.
"This is an El Paso County issue," Waller said. "This is a bread and butter issue. This is something we have to stick together on as a delegation."
Newly elected Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, didn't say anything.
Then Commissioner Dennis Hisey brought up a scathing letter the Pueblo Board of County Commissioners sent last month to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The letter sought the federal council's intervention and opposition to further Army training at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, the Pueblo Chieftain reported.
The maneuvers, the Chieftain quoted the letter as saying, endanger historic artifacts on the 238,000-acre range northeast of Trinidad, and the Army's use of Piñon Canyon has "demonstrated a pattern and practice of repeated violations of the National Historic Preservation Act."
Gardner said he doesn't get Pueblo's position, considering 600 people commute from Pueblo to Fort Carson to work. Others also shook their heads and vowed even more deference to the military, given that El Paso County is home to five installations: U.S. Air Force Academy, Schriever Air Force Base, Peterson Air Force Base, Fort Carson and the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station.
Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, chalked up Pueblo's sentiments to "a certain degree of envy" of Colorado Springs. After all, he noted, Pueblo is the town that turned down the chance to have a Wal-Mart distribution center with hundreds of new jobs.