Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rock The Earth

On September 8, a federal judge blocked the Army's plans to greatly increase its use of the existing Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS). Ruling that the Army did not fully comply with federal environmental assessment law before it issued its 2007 decision for expanded use of the site, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch set aside the Army's decision authorizing new facilities and year-round training at the 238,000-acre site northeast of Trinidad, Colorado.

Matsch's ruling seemingly means that the Army will need to develop a new environmental impact statement (EIS), before it may resurrect its plans. The ruling was a victory for Rock the Earth, who has been educating and activating the public on the issue for nearly two years along with Not One More Acre!, a group of property owners in Southeastern Colorado, and preservationists and others, all who sued the Army regarding the inadequacy of the impact statement.

The Army wants to significantly increase its use of the site to accommodate new weapons, tactics and an influx of soldiers relocated to Fort Carson from Korea and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the PCMS is home to many imperiled wildlife species, including the bald eagle, burrowing owl, mountain plover, ferruginous hawk, swift fox, flathead chub, plains leopard frog, triploid checkered whiptail, Texas blind snake, Texas horned lizard, yellow-billed cuckoo, American peregrine falcon, long-billed curlew, massasauga, greater sandhill crane, Townsend’s big-eared bat and Botta’s pocket gopher, each designated as a “Species of Concern” by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. This area also contains world-class archaeological and paleontological sites, including the largest dinosaur footprints in North America.

The judge, in an 18-page decision, wrote that the Army's training requirements at Fort Carson "cannot be met" at the existing site, "even if use of that facility is unrestricted." The judge concluded the Army's impact statement "does not adequately assess the impact on the environment of the increase in intensity and duration of training operations" at the site. Judge Matsch wrote that the Army's reliance on the statement makes its decision to increase use of the site "an arbitrary and capricious action, an abuse of discretion, and a decision not in accordance with NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act]." "A major flaw of the EIS is that it contains only vague descriptions of the anticipated increase in use," the judge wrote. He quoted the statement as saying that training "may or may not be conducted 52 weeks a year.

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