Local officials want Army to comply with historic preservation rules
Local officials want Army to comply with historic preservation rules
Rebecca Goodwin says there is a major disconnection between what U.S. Army officials say and what they actually do to preserve historic and archeological sites at Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.
As Otero County’s top historic preservation official Rebecca Goodwin was called to testify this spring when the Pinon Canyon Land Owners Protection Act was working its way through committees in the State Legislature. The act, H.B. 1317, was approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bill Ritter, effectively stopping the U.S. Army from expanding its 238,000-acre maneuver site through leasing or buying land from the State Board of Land Commissioners.
But stopping the Army from acquiring state school lands is a far cry from what Goodwin would like to see in terms of preservation of places like Brown’s Sheep Camp, a set of historic buildings that are important because they were once a gathering place for ranching families throughout the Picketwire Canyon (or Pinon Canyon) communities.
The Army has not ignored the historic value of sites.
Dan Corson from the State Historical Preservation Office said he once toured PCMS and was “quite impressed with measures the Army had taken to protect historic properties.”
But Kevin Karney, chairman of the Board of Otero County Commissioners, toured PCMS last week with Goodwin, and his fellow commissioners.
Las Animas counties and other state historic preservation officials, said it’s difficult to “put your finger on them” when addressing Army officials charged with protecting archeological and cultural resources at PCMS.
“When we point out past transgressions that have occurred, they always tell us things will be better now because someone new is in charge,” Karney said. “But they change people there as often as we change socks.”
The commissioners here worked for a year to arrange a tour to see what damage had occurred last summer when the Bridger Fire, started by a lightning strike, ended up burning 45,000 acres at PCMS.
A study conducted over a number of years by environmental protection officials from Fort Carson who work at PCMS, noted there are 481 sites in the training area that are either eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, or need to be studied further for potential listing. The study, presented at the 2006 Joint Services Environmental Management Conference, said only 9.5 percent of 5,060 sites found at PCMS have been studied enough to determine if they are eligible for protection under the National Register, or need to be studied further.
So far, not one site in the historic region has been nominated for listing on the National Register, Goodwin noted. Most sites are surrounded only by a fence. Brown’s Sheep Camp has a fence around it, but weeds were head-high when she visited the site several years ago. Last week, she saw that weeds had been trimmed somewhat, but at other sites protected by fences, such as the 1876 Bent Stage Stop, there was evidence that Army tanks had breached some fences.
Facts like that gave the National Trust for Historic Preservation reason in 2007 to name the Pinon Canyon Area as one of America’s 11 most endangered historic places. That same year, the Otero County Historical Preservation Advisory Board, which had been created in 2004, decided it had to take a greater role in trying to protect sites on PCMS that were valued by both American Indians, whose history there dates back 11,500 years or more, and by the ranching and farming community, whose presence in the Purgatoire River Valley and surrounding areas dates back to the mid-1800s.
To take a greater role, the Otero County needed to ask the Army to grant it “local jurisdiction consultation status” under Section 106, a provision of the National Historic Preservation Act.
Basically, the intent of Section 106 is to protect historic and archeological sites in the U.S. where federal government agencies, including the military, either work or have invested taxpayer dollars. The protection comes through consultation with state historic preservation officials first, then through talks with local officials who have consultation status. Under Section 106, the Las Animas County commissioners must be granted consultation status because PCMS lies entirely within the boundaries of that county. Agencies from other jurisdictions, like those in Otero or Huerfano counties, must request consultation status. But Corson said Otero County’s location, next door to PCMS, would make it difficult for the Army to prove it shouldn’t include officials here in the consultation process.
“What triggers Section 106 consultation is if any type of activity has the potential to effect historical or archeological (or paleontological) resources, then the consultation process has to be undertaken by the federal agency - in this case the Army,” Goodwin said.
The State Historical Preservation Office typically takes the lead in consulting with the Army and other federal agencies on the hundreds of projects conducted on millions of acres of land in the state controlled by those agencies. It’s a daunting task for people like Corson, who said the Army several years ago handed over several boxes filled with studies and other materials related to PCMS sites. He admitted those boxes have never been thoroughly examined. It is commonly known the SHPO’s funding and manpower fall far short of what it needs to effectively monitor actions by federal agencies on resources.
But SHPO officials have recently sent a letter to Fort Carson about Section 106 compliance. That letter was prompted by complaints voiced by Goodwin and the county commissioners, including Karney, Goodwin’s husband, Keith, and the late Bob Bauserman.
The county commissioners knew through first-person accounts that last summer’s Bridger Fire had scorched 45,000 acres and burned some historic sites. They questioned whether stagecoach stops, historic ranches (like Brown’s Sheep Camp) and other buildings, or if the fire had blackened sites where Indian rock art abounds.
Bells and whistles started going off when the county commissioners began to try and exercise their consultation rights under Section 106, though. First, a letter they sent to the Army at Fort Carson asking about the impacts of the Bridger Fire and the installation of several new communications antennas came back as refused by Fort Carson officials. That prompted the commissioners to fire off a letter to the SHPO office asking for the state director to intervene with the Army.
Goodwin was at the county commissioners’ meeting in early May when Col. Eugene Smith, garrison commander, appeared with three members of his staff.
“The garrison commander said he had made public notice in the newspaper about the antenna project,” Goodwin said. “It’s possible I missed it in (researching) the La Junta paper. But the only thing I found was notification of a draft environmental impact statement published on Oct. 17, 2006 in the Tribune-Democrat.”
Goodwin researched the La Junta newspaper’s collection but found no notification that a Section 106 consultation process was under way. She discovered, however, through reading the notice of the draft EIS that PCMS officials had asked Army brass at the Pentagon to shorten the public comment period from its typical 30 days to a 15-day period “so trenching could proceed,” Goodwin said.
“The first time we knew anything about the antenna towers was last year in late summer and early fall when they started building them,” Goodwin said. “The project started in 2006 and we didn’t know anything about it until the towers went up.”
They intrude into the vistas tourists see while driving U.S. Highway 350 between La Junta and Trinidad, which from the 1820s until the arrival of the railroad in the late 1860s and early 1870s, was known as the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. Goodwin and others believe the antennas are an intrusion into the experience visitors can have on the nationally proclaimed Scenic Highway and Byway.