Hickenlooper v. Tancredo and the Pinon Canyon Expansion

A long roadtrip from Santa Fe to Denver and back finds the author ruminating on how many times she has wondered: Just what is Pinon canyon expansion anyway?

One thing has changed along the road from Santa Fe to Denver, and not just the confusing roadwork at Trinidad, Colorado  – but the signs about the Pinon Canyon expansion a few miles further north in Las Animas county.

Now, hanging beneath the first of a series of billboards you used to pass over the Las Animas county border, urging opposition to the U.S. Army expanding into an estimated 100,000-500,000 acres of Pinon Canyon, is an appended message:  No Money for Expansion. It hangs underneath its Oppose the Expansion mothership like a fortune cookie.

And this issue – ranchers and environmentalists in Las Animas against Army expansion, military establishment in Fort Carson for expansion of Army training grounds – may well be a harbinger of future conflicts in Rocky Mountain state politics between now and 2012.  A harbinger which also foretells internecine conflicts in Republican politics in Colorado.

With libertarian leaning Tom Tancredo just four points below frontrunner John Hickenlooper here is how Huffington Post reported on Tancredos candidacy today.

The issue of Pinon canyon and Army land acquisition made Colorado news again in March this year when Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper said he opposed Pinon canyon expansion, if the ranchers did.
Scott McInnis, who lost the Republican nomination to Dan Maes after, among other things, a plagiarism scandal, supported the military position, but saw strong opposition to his yes from ranching Republicans in Las Animas, while the Fort Carson brass agreed with him.Reports had McInnis begging Gov. Bill Ritter to veto a bill that thwarted the expansion – so far.

The ranchers of Los Animas are part of a group called Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition.

PCEOC wrote in its June 2010 newsletter, “A 100,000 acre expansion of PCMS would cost the communities of  Southeastern Colorado $27 million to $76 million annually, according to economic data compiled by Marilyn Musgrave and John Salazar.  This includes tourism revenue, hunting revenue, cattle  sales, agricultural salaries, and hay sales.  Wind development on 100,000 acres would generate  an additional $25 to $35 million annually.  Gas fields east of I-25 could also become a reality as  energy prices rise.. ”

If one reads between the lines, the authors here are expressing a common purpose to allow the private property to be home to “wind development,” as well as “tourism,” as well as potential “gas fields.” A future world in which a past of agricultural uses and farm subsidies commingle with all those windmill blades traveling the highway, signaling mixed-energy production in Colorado.

The PCEOC estimates, on the pro Army expansion side, “$5 million in salary and $4  million in maintenance costs,” if the expansion goes through. They ask if this represents: ” A good trade?”

And, while this has gone uncovered in the Denver Post since last December, the Las Animas Republicans facing off against their Fort Carson peers made for a twist worthy of theater – Fort Carson, in El Paso county, is the states richest Republican county with 127,000 registered as of last December – but to listen to one Grady Grissom, a rancher, tell it, the issue of the expansion is “taxpayer-funded jobs”, against a more promising economic future for private initiative.

Hickenlooper is topping his own campaign posters with a graphic of a snowcapped mountain gleaming sunlit. The prospective Democratic governor of Colorado is a geologist-turned-beerhall-entrepreneur-turned Mayor of Denver (who had a role in selecting the Daniel Libeskind Hamilton Wing for DAM). He is also, as shown here, a hater of negative campaigning.

A postscript: The two sides on the Pinon canyon issue have gone to lengths to explain complexities. The antis say they are not anti-military. And the pros are putting the antis on the defensive, in turn, over “private property rights.” But it goes to the libertarian strain in the Colorado Republican politics that have pushed Tancredo up so far in the polls. Will this really be good for a progressive agenda?

Jon Stewart, are you out there?

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