U.S. Army vs Indigenous of Pinon
Read Kennie Gyurman's telling of what
the U.S. Army took from his family starting in 1982 through
1988...repeating their abuse beginning in 2006.
As told at the LaJunta, CO Good Neighbor Forum September
Sept. 22, 2007
My name is Kennie Gyurman. My wife and I live on a small
portion of the original Gyurman family ranch. I was born and raised in the
Trinidad Colorado area. In high school I was in 4-H and FF A and grew up and
worked on our ranch until I graduated from college. I graduated from college
with a degree in agriculture. After graduating from college I moved to the
Denver area. I never lost ties to the ranch. We also own a farm in Rocky Ford
that we lease out. After retiring in Dec. 2001 we moved to our farm in Rocky
Ford. We purchased a small portion of the family ranch back and
built a nice retirement home on it. We planned to live the rest of our lives
there. We put a lot of time and hard work into our property. We also planned to
keep a few head of cattle. Other family members own the remainder of the ranch.
They all raise cattle on their land. We live approximately 3 miles southwest of
the present PCMS. Most of the land that is in the cantonment area once belonged
to the Gyurman family.
The original ranch was started in 1915. My grandfather
his two sons (Charles and John), and three daughters all had moved into the area
by 1916. They all had homesteads. Eventually my grandfather and his two sons
bought out the other family members and were sole owners. My father had five
children, two sons and three daughters. The two sons remained on the ranch. I am
the third generation. My uncle had three sons who remained on the ranch.
two Gyurman families through hard work and the process of accumulating a small
piece of property at a time increased the size of the ranch from what was
homesteaded to nearly 17000 acres by 1980.
The ranch was well watered and
cross-fenced. We had made many improvements with help from the Soil Conservation
Service. It was a good ranch. My father and uncle were proud of what they had
In the late 1970's and early 1980's word got out that Army was
interested in acquiring land to create a maneuver site. We had no idea about
what was going to happen or how we were going to be treated in the future by our
own government. My father and uncle trusted their government and thought they
would be treated fairly. My father was 84 years old and my uncle was 78. They
did not expect to be treated in the uncaring and disrespectful manner they were
by their own government. They did not deserve to be treated the way they
Once the decision was made to form the PCMS our family went through the
following sequence of events. I retained many of the legal documents and other
information that we accumulated from the taking in 1982 to the end of our case
in 1988.1 wanted them as pan of our family history. Little did I know that I
would be going through the same thing todav?
There were public meetings held
by the Army. I did not attend these as I was working in the Denver area. In Feb.
1982 an attorney from the Army Corps. Of Engineers met with the family and
requested a temporary easement to perform tests surveys and exploratory work on
the ranch. We did not give them permission.
Attorneys for the United States
went to the federal judge in Denver that was in charge of all of the
condemnation cases and got an order that forced the Gyurman families to
surrender the entire ranch for testing, surveys and appraisals. The entire ranch
was condemned for a one year period. Grounds for possession listed were: 1. The
Secretary of the Army has found and determined that it is necessary and
advantageous to the interest of Plaintiff (United States) to acquire such
possession. 2. Plaintiff is entitled to such possession as a matter of
The Army and anyone working for them could come and go at will now as
long as they conformed to guidelines set in the court order. They did come in
and drilled a productive water well and performed other tests as well as
surveys. We were entitled to any damages that occurred. We had to prove the
damages occurred and how much monetary value was involved.
The attorney for
the Army Corps of Engineers met with the family to negotiate a price arrived at
by their appraiser. By this time the government had decided they needed 5063
acres of our 16000+ acre ranch. The price was so low that it was an insult to
the family. We declined the offer. That was the one and only time the government
negotiated with us. We declined the government's offer.
A notice of
condemnation was filed in court on Nov. 3, 1982. This was the Declaration ol
Taking. We now no longer owned the land that was being condemned.
On Nov. 4,
1982 the court issued an Order For Delivery Of Possession. It ordered us to
surrender the property by Dec. 1, 1982. The order was served on my father and
uncle by U.S. Marshals. I received my order by certified mail. I completed the
return form and mailed it back. Not doing so within twenty days could have
resulted in me being required to pay any expenses incurred in serving a Notice
and Order in any other manner permitted by law. In a matter of minutes and with
the signature of the judge, 5063 acres that belonged to us now belonged to the
government. Seventy years of hard work and improvements gone with the signature
of one judge.
In April 1983 the government added two small additional tracts
of land that we owned to what they had already condemned. The government can add
or take away property in the acquisition process at will. Once they condemn the
land though, they cannot return it to the owners without a long process.
trial date was set for Oct. 18, 1983. We spent thousands of dollars on expert
witnesses and other expenses to get to trial. The same trial judge was picked to
hear all of the condemnation cases. I think the justice department picked him.
After going through the trial it was obvious to me that the judge was biased
towards the government.
We did try to negotiate on the price offered by the
Army Corps Of Engineers before the trial. Our attorney was told that they were
going to make an example of us. They would see us in court.
We were fortunate
to get a jury trial. We were up against the U.S. Department of Justice, the Army
and the Army Corps of Engineers. They had unlimited resources. After hearing all
of the testimony the jury reached a verdict in our favor. We were awarded 42%
more for our land than what the government offered. We received 94% of the value
we testified to. We thought this ordeal was finally over. We were wrong.
was not over with yet. The government asked the Judge to reduce the award or
grant a new trial. We certainly did not want to go through another trial. We
waited in limbo for three months for the judge's decision.
The judge did
reduce the award by $25,000. We accepted the reduction rather than go through
another trial. We were now entitled to collect the additional money the jury
awarded us plus interest.
We now qualified under the Equal Access to Justice
Act to collect some of our expenses. We were allowed to apply for 75% of our
attorney fees plus a cost of living adjustment. We documented our expenses and
turned them into the court and asked the judge to order the government to pay
them. There are very narrow guidelines to meet to qualify to collect your
expenses. Our case met these guidelines. The judged did order the government to
pay us our attorney and expert witness fees.
The government appealed the
decision to the 10th Circuit Court. It took four years of legal action to get a
decision on our expenses. We won the appeal and were awarded our expenses. The
money awarded was probably about half of the total expenses we had incurred. We
were not paid any of the expenses we incurred during the appeal. Throughout this
whole process we had an excellent attorney in charge as well as very good expert
We are proud to have successfully fought the government and
received what we testified the property taken was worth. We are proud that on
appeal we won our attorney fees.
Was it worth it? In the end we lost 30% of
the ranch to eminent domain. It severely impacted the remainder of the ranch in
carrying capacity and earning ability. My father had a severe stroke right after
the trial and spent the rest of his life in a nursing home. Mj uncle was nearly
killed in a car wreck but fortunately recovered from his injuries. They are both
dead now and the ranch was divided up among the individual family members. We
still own every acre that was left after the condemnation proceedings in
Now it looks like we are facing the same thing all over again. EMINENT
Eminent domain is a very unfair and expensive process. It is intended
to snocK ana intimidate landowners into giving up their land at a price the
government wants to pay. The government wants the landowner to feel helpless and
beaten after his land has been taken The government wants landowners in future
condemnation cases to know what they are in for in hopes they will sell their
land at a price the government wants to pay and not go to court. The government
wants any landowners in future condemnation cases to feel it is futile to fight
Many people who have their land condemned won't talk about it. They
find it to painful. It destroys families and their livelihoods. It takes farms,
ranches and homes from people that in many cases they have been on for
generations. You cannot find a replacement property exactly like yours and just
We are now faced with the possible taking of 416,000 acres to
expand the PCMS. If the expansion is allowed to happen much of this land will be
taken using eminent domain. There are very few willing sellers if any. I don't
know of one.
As I see it the process the Army is using this time is identical
to the way they did it when the PCMS was established. At first a rumor gets
started that the Army may want to acquire more land. In a few weeks or months it
ruins the real estate market in the affected area. The property values flatten
out and start to go down. Who wants to buy property if they know it may be
condemned in the near future. If your property is for sale you are stuck with
it. The Army likes this because it drives down the property values so they can
get it for less when they condemn. We are in this situation now.
owner is left in limbo. He doesn't know whether to make improvements. Since the
Army will not be truthful or forthcoming with its plans you are constantly
wondering what is going to happen next. This can go on for years.
been under the threat of eminent domain for about two years now. It is a
constant worry. Much of our time has been spent fighting this expansion.
Army has held public meetings on their request to use live fire at PCMS. When
the site was established we were promised there would be no live fire or future
expansions. This is just two of the many lies we have been told. These meetings
are not held to inform the public or pass along information and answer
questions. It is a requirement they be held when they are developing their EIS.
These meetings also give the Army a chance to look at how the public is reacting
to what they are doing. They do not care what you have to say. When speaking at
public meetings held in Colorado Springs, Trinidad, and La Junta there was a
person with a stopwatch standing behind you. They gave you just three minutes
speak about you concerns.
In a meeting in Hoehne Colorado a spokeswoman for
the Army stated they had many willing sellers and that they would not use
eminent domain. She stated she was working on getting it in writing that the
Army Corps Of Engineers would not use eminent domain
We have not heard from
her since and I knew she was telling us a bunch of lies. The Army has never
taken use of eminent domain off of the table. They know they cannot acquire the
land without using it.
It appears we have a year where the Army will not be
able to do further studies on the proposed expansion. Congresswoman Musgrave and
Congressman John Salazar sponsored an amendment to prohibit funding of any
studies by the Army for the proposed expansion. It passed by an overwhelming
majority. Ken Salazar carried it in the Senate where it also passed. It prevents
the funding of any studies for the expansion for the next year. We are very
thankful for their help and support.
The Army will be back in a year wanting
to do an EIS if they can get the funding next year. In this EIS the Army will
bring up all of the potential environmental impacts this expansion will cause.
The public has a chance to voice their concerns at public meetings. At the last
meeting I attended a person was given just three minutes to speak. They record
all of your concerns and address them in the final EIS. The final EIS explains
away all of the concerns brought up at the public meetings. All of the concerns
are answered with a statement of how they were unfounded or the way the Army
will address the problem. They paint a positive picture. Their answers to
concerns may not make sense but it does not matter, as they are the ones writing
the EIS. What you said does not matter.
With the EIS completed if they get
the funding they are now ready to acquire the land. At this point the landowner
that does not want to sell at the Army's price is in for a very rough time
ahead. The Army Corps of Engineers does the land acquisition. Letters are sent
to landowners in the acquisition area informing them of the Army's need to
acquire their land. They have an appraiser do an appraisal of your property. If
there are numerous properties they usually contract with the same appraiser to
do all of the properties.
By this time the government already has a judge
picked to hear any legal proceedings that will occur in the future. They also
have in place attorneys from the U.S. Department of justice to take care of
their legal work. They spend as much of the taxpayers' money as it takes to hire
their expert witnesses. The landowner is left to hire his own appraiser,
attorney and expert witnesses.
The next step is negotiations with the
landowner. The Army Corps of Engineer's has a price they call fair market value
they offer. Fair market value requires a willing seller and a willing buyer.
Since you are an unwilling seller I do not see how they can say they offei fair
market value. In our case it was very low. If you do not accept the offer they
tell you they will condemn your property and just compensation will be
determined in Federal Court. They also tell you that the price they offered may
not be the same offered in the court proceedings. It is implied that you could
end up with less by going to court. Also they do not have to tell you how they
arrived at the value of your property. They will say that is information that
they will use at the trial and therefore they cannot give it to you.
now faced with some choices. Sell the property to them at their price our go to
court. If vou decide to sell you than become a willing seller even though you do
to sell. If you have a small piece of property the legal expenses of
a trial may be more than you could hope to gain in compensation by going to
trial. You sell even though you don't want to. Even if you think your property
is worth more you sell. You don't have a choice. The last choice is to go to
trial. If you get a jury trial you are than on a more level playing field. You
have six ordinary citizens that will determine what a fair price for youi
property is. The landowner is not guaranteed a jury trial. A judge or a
three-person panel can determine the cases. If you are awarded more money for
your land, you hope it is enough to cover you expenses with some extra to help
you cover the taxes and relocation expense if you are lucky enough to find
another place to move to. The equivalent replacement property will almost always
cost more than what you receive from the government for your property.
win there is always a chance of the government appealing the verdict. If this
happens it could take years and add thousands of dollars to your
There is one big difference this time from when the PCMS was
created. There is a huge amount of opposition to the expansion. Ordinary
citizens, cities, towns, county commissions, the Colorado Legislature and
Governor and many organizations are opposing this expansion. We have a huge
amount of support in opposing this expansion. We hope we can get the funding for
it stopped. The Army has never proven a valid need for this expansion. They have
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