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National Guard finds proposed Cape Cod gun range wouldn't impact the environment

An an August 4, 2019 photo, a soldier from the 1166th Transportation Company, Massachusetts National Guard, engages a target with an M240B Machine gun during a base defense live-fire exercise during the Combined Arms Exercise: Patriot Crucible on Camp Edwards, Mass.

STEVEN C. EATON/MASS. NATIONAL GUARD

By BETH TREFFEISEN | Provincetown Banner, Mass. | Published: April 6, 2021

JOINT BASE CAPE COD, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — The National Guard Bureau plans to take the next step in seeking approval for a proposed multipurpose machine gun range, despite negative outcry from area residents and community and environmental organizations.

Christopher Faux, the executive director of Joint Base Cape Cod, notified local legislators and town officials in an email Thursday afternoon that after much discussion and deliberation, he is expecting the National Guard Bureau to sign and release a finalized Finding of No Significant Impact report related to the proposed machine gun range early next week. The response to public comment is also expected early next week, he said.

Once his office receives those documents, further information will be sent out to the public, Faux wrote in the email to the Times.

A Times request to the base for further information beyond Faux's statement was not answered Friday.

Andrew Gottlieb, the executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, was critical of the report and on Friday issued a statement to the group's members.

"While the finding has not yet been released, it represented a full steam ahead approach by the Guard to force this project on Cape Cod with no regard for the requirement to protect the water supply of the Upper Cape or to the impact of the largest forest clear-cut on Cape Cod in recent memory and the resultant impact on climate from the loss of mature forest cover," he said in the statement. "This project remains substantively flawed and poorly sited. While not the last step in the process, this action is a clear and unmistakable statement of intent by the Guard Bureau to proceed no matter the extent of public opposition or environmental damage that may result."

Gottlieb told the the Times Friday that it seemed "a little twisted" that Guard officials took public comment but are "still doing what they wanted."

"Giving us a courtesy heads-up, that sounds great," said Gottlieb about the early warning by email. "It is an important part of a collaborative process. But, if the substantive outcome is contradictory to all the public input you got, giving a heads-up that you are going to do what you intended to doesn't make it any better."

Of the 367 public comments received by the Guard, 330 opposed the project, according to a public records request done by APCC.

Nine comments were in support of the project and an additional 28 comments took a neutral position, most of them seeking information or requesting an extended comment period.

The Guard is effectively ignoring the public input they received, Gottlieb said.

Concerns over the gun range include impacts on the region's aquifer, wildlife habitat, traffic and noise.

The machine gun range cannot move forward without the approval of the Environmental Management Commission, which will now consider the finding as part of its decision-making. The panel is comprised of the commissioners of the state departments of Fish and Game, Environmental Protection and Conservation and Recreation.

The Environment Management Commission is the reviewing authority over the state water supply, Gottlieb said. The commission serves as the backstop to ensure the legal standard in Massachusetts laws on water quality is followed by training activities, Gottlieb said.

"They could put a stop to this lunacy if they so choose," Gottlieb said.

The Massachusetts Army National Guard's proposal for the machine gun training range calls for clearing 170 acres of forest and disturbing about 199 acres of land. The selected location is the current KD, or "known distance," range at Camp Edwards.

More than 5,000 acres would be required to accommodate the operation, since it would include the area where projectiles fired on the range would land, based on the weapons and ammunition used.

The range would be used for training of military personnel and weapons qualification. Trainees would come to the base from around Massachusetts as well as surrounding states.

The National Guard has said anticipated weapons to be used include several types of machine guns, 12-gauge shotguns, grenade launchers and pistols.

The Guard has since said there would be no high explosives used there and only copper ammunition would be permitted.

An environmental assessment was completed as part of the original draft of the Finding of No Significant Impact. If that is finalized, as Faux's email indicated it would be, that will then exempt the proposal from undergoing an exhaustive environmental study that is federally required for projects with significant impacts.

Even though Gottlieb hasn't seen the final study, he believes there are no significant changes from the draft. He noted that if it's determined that there is no significant impact, then the Guard will have no obligation to mitigate any potential problems.

"If you find you are not having impact, why mitigate?" Gottlieb asked. "This is just a way to proceed with what they always intended to do."

Camp Edwards is located in the 15,000-acre Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve, created by state law in 2002 to make sure activities at the base would not negatively impact the water running beneath it.

The aquifer provides drinking water to the four towns on the Upper Cape as well as Barnstable and Yarmouth. Gottlieb is worried that this gun range is going to set a precedent on how the base interacts with the community in the future.

In the 1980s, the base was dealing with widespread contamination in the water supplies and there were constructive solutions only after the military became open and forthcoming on the nature of the problem, Gottlieb said.

Now, Guard officials are turning their backs on the model of the relationship between the community and the base, and on protecting the environment and public health, Gottlieb said.

"We are in for a lot more trouble (if this continues)," Gottlieb said. "A return to the bad old days, (when) the base was not forthcoming on what activities were happening and what impact it had on the environment. History has shown us that left to their own devices, (base officials) are a lousy steward to the environment and it puts a lot of people's public health at risk."

btreffeisen@capecodonline.com

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