Army appeals judge's ruling on Piñon Canyon

Staff reports Updated: November 9, 2009 at 12:00 am • Published: November 9, 2009

DENVER • The Army is appealing a federal judge's ruling that rejected its plans to increase operations at a disputed training site in southeastern Colorado.

A two-sentence document filed in U.S. District Court Monday said the Army is appealing Judge Richard Matsch's Sept. 8 ruling. Matsch said the Army's environmental review didn't adequately assess the effects of increasing training to 365 days a year at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver site.

The Army uses the 238,000-acre site about four months a year, and has proposed expanding it by 100,000 acres to accommodate an increase in soldiers at Fort Carson. Ranchers opposed to expansion plans sued over the environmental study.

Matsch's ruling dealt only with the Army's plan to increase training on the existing site, including adding a live hand-grenade range, constructing a medical clinic and other support buildings, and upgrading roads. They say the expansion is unnecessary and would take agricultural land out of production, hurting the area's economy and way of life.

"It's across the board, a dead done deal, and now we see an 11th hour appeal? We're going to believe that common sense will prevail one more time," Jean Aguerre, president of a group opposing the expansion, said Monday.

In the ruling, Matsch noted that when the Army created the site in the 1980s, an environmental review recognized that land in the semiarid climate can accommodate perpetual use for maneuver training. He also said it seemed like it was impossible for the Army to increase training without expanding Piñon Canyon.

Thomas Snodgrass, an attorney representing the Army, did not immediately return a message.

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