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Residents gather to protest proposed Camp Edwards machine-gun range

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 CHRISTINE LEGERE | Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. | Published: October 13, 2020

FORESTDALE, Mass. (Tribune News Service)  — Nathan Herschler's daughter is a first grader at Forestdale Elementary School, which is located about a mile from the spot where a multipurpose machine gun range is being proposed at Camp Edwards on Joint Base Cape Cod.

The schoolchildren already can hear the sound of gunfire from other ranges at the base, and it scares his daughter, Herschler said.

"And I'm sure the hundreds of neighbors who live .2 miles away from the proposed location of this machine gun range are equally afraid of what's going to happen to them and the animals that live near them," Herschler said during a rally against the $11.5 million project Monday.

The event, hosted by the Sierra Club's Cape Cod chapter, drew about 45 sign-toting opponents to the grounds of the elementary school.

Following the rally, the group held a stand out on Route 130, and were greeted with waves and honking horns by passersby.

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

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 Massachusetts as well as surrounding states.

In its environmental filings, the National Guard 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 and the draft Finding of No Significant Impact, if finalized, will exempt the proposal from undergoing an exhaustive environmental study that is federally required for projects with significant impacts.

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.

While a 2014 groundwater investigation found no significant impact to the aquifer from use of lead or copper projectiles at the base's 16 ranges, 66 tons of projectiles and 9 million pounds of contaminated soil had to be removed to comply with state regulations, according to a base official last week.

On Monday, Keith Lewison, chairman of the Sierra Club of Cape Cod, called the machine gun range proposal "ill-conceived."

There are 42 cleanup sites on the base property already due to past contamination, he said. "I see no reason to add to the burden."

Lewison said the public should demand an environmental impact statement, which would require a more in-depth look at project impacts.

"The need that has been stated by the Army National Guard is really one of convenience, so they don't have to drive so far to train," Lewison said.

The closest machine gun range is 270 miles away.

"That's not a good enough reason to endanger all of us and endanger this planet we love," he said.

Jacob Swenson, a recent graduate of Sandwich High School now attending his freshman classes online at George Washington University, said he was "kind of tired of the older generations not putting the environment first."

"This is our only planet," he said. "There is no planet B. It's time to make this planet a priority."

Noting the National Guard said the project has been in the works for several years, Swenson questioned why the public just recently became aware of it.

"They question why we don't trust them," Swenson said. "It is because of what has gone on through this entire process."

If the military wants to earn the public's trust, it should allow the project to undergo the entire environmental impact process, he said.

Cole Silva, co-chairman of the Cape Cod Democratic Socialists of America, had participated in a virtual meeting on the project last week of the Environmental Management Commission, which oversees the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve, and its two advisory bodies, the Community Advisory Council and the Science Advisory Council.

During last week's meeting, base officials said over 900 public comments, the largest in the Cape's history, were submitted on the project during the recent 30-day comment period, Silva said.

"We must continue protesting, we must continue filling the public comment section and making our voices heard," Silva said. "If we don't, they will steamroll over us."

The machine gun range cannot move forward without the approval of the Environmental Management Commission. The panel, comprised of the commissioners of the state departments of Fish and Game, Environmental Protection and Conservation and Recreation, has not yet made its decision.

Lewison urged residents to make their concerns known to the Environmental Management Commission as well as to their town officials and the Cape's legislative delegation.

Pointing out the Cape earns its livelihood from tourism, Falmouth resident Rebecca Webb said that people come for the tranquility and natural beauty the region offers.

"In what world does it make sense to introduce the sound of machine guns?" she said. "In what world does it make sense to build something that is going to bring additional traffic over our bridges?"

Herschler conceded there are financial perks to hosting Joint Base Cape Cod, but said the trade off is too great.

"Sure we enjoy the economic benefit of having a military base next door, but I'm a hell of a lot more afraid of what it means to have so many weapons, so much potential for destruction within earshot of my house."

©2020 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
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