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Stepping up Piñon Canyon use

Army wants explosives at PiƱon Canyon

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Fort Carson's proposal to intensify use of the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, southeast of Colorado Springs, by adding air-to-ground gunnery and Stryker vehicles has drawn support from the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and opposition from a watchdog environmental group.

The proposal calls for the 235,000-acre site to host aviation gunnery and flares, electronic jamming systems, lasers, drones, and demolitions, including TNT and plastic explosives. It also seeks to restrict air space to allow drone training without manned chaser vehicles.

"The Army needs to conduct realistic coordinated large-scale training that integrates the ground and air resources of assigned and visiting units," it states in the draft Environmental Impact Statement.

One change is the addition of Strykers, wheeled vehicles recently assigned to Carson. The RBA's chief defense industry officer, Andy Merritt, says they could lessen impact, compared to tracked vehicles. "Some of this could turn out to be a positive to the environment," he says.

According to the draft EIS, the intensified training would cause "negligible or minor" impacts on air quality, cultural resources and other matters. More pronounced impacts could be seen on water, soils and wildlife through "degrading" vegetation in blast zones and killing or injuring wildlife. Only a few uses were termed significant or moderate, such as erosion of soils.

Mitigation would reduce impacts "but may require extended years of effort," the study says. That's troubling, argues Paula Ozzello, chair of the Southern Colorado Environmental Council.

"They're going to do ordnance explosion down there, which they have never done," she says. "We are really afraid that it is going to take out some of our wildlife." More bombs, she adds, will turn the area into a desert, and ranchers object to drone flights, especially during calving seasons.

The study says rotation of operations can mitigate impacts, but environmentalist Tom Warren, who used to work at Carson, says that's not practical due to a growing number of units using PCMS.

The post says in a statement that no extra mitigation money has been sought, adding, "Once the decision is made on what training will be conducted, unit training plans will be developed and those plans will help shape funding levels."

A public meeting is set for 5 p.m., Nov. 20 at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site office. You can also submit comments by Dec. 15 to Fort Carson National Environmental Policy Act Program Manager, 1626 Evans St., Building 1219, Fort Carson, Colorado 80913-4362, or via email to: sarmy.carson.imcom-central.list.dpw-ed-nepa@mail.mil.

— Pam Zubeck

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