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Environmental groups blast National Guard’s firing range plan

Security Forces from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts (Master Sgt. Mark W Fortin/WikiCommons)

Residents and environmental groups are calling on the Massachusetts National Guard to abandon its proposal for an eight-lane machine gun range at Camp Edwards, or to at least slow down the process so the public can get more information and offer further input.

The comment period on the Guard’s environmental assessment of the proposed machine gun range and its draft finding of no significant impact ended Sept. 8.

Michael Kellett, executive director of RESTORE The North Woods, said the environmental assessment appeared to have been written “with a predetermined outcome of approving the project.”

“No other alternative was seriously considered and the significant potential impacts on the natural and human environments were glossed over,” Kellett wrote.

Kellett called the 30-day comment period a “completely inadequate time frame for citizens to review the 111-page document, analyze its contents and compile and submit comments.”

His organization called for the process to be put on hold and opened up once again to public review.

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

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.

Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, called for a more in-depth look at impacts.

“The proposed land clearing would be, by far, the largest single land clearing project on Cape Cod in recent memory,” Gottliebe wrote. “The loss of this forest cover on Cape Cod would, in and of itself, be a significant regional environmental impact.”

Gottlieb cited past contamination caused by activities on the military base, saying his organization had been part of the push for cleanup of “toxic plumes” from the base that contaminated groundwater in the four Upper Cape towns.

The 15,000-acres on which Camp Edwards sits currently carry the state-established designation of Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve, which protects the water and natural habitat there.

Only military uses that are compatible with those protections are allowed under that designation.

State Sen. Susan Moran, D-Falmouth, said she has asked “at the very least that the comment period be extended.”

“I think one of the main concerns is the single aquifer and how long it’s been taking to do cleanup around the base,” Moran said. “The public is concerned about trading one contamination issue for another.”

The Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance called the proposal “a backward step.”

In her comments, alliance President Sharl Heller said the project would be “a severe blow to the effort to preserve the second largest example of coastal pine barrens left in the world.”

Similar comments were submitted by residents.

“Environmental degradation affecting land, water, air and animal species seems inevitable and the ear-shattering noise pollution unimaginable in this setting,” East Sandwich resident Frederick Lane wrote.

Cataumet residents Jane Leifer and Bernadette Sullivan Ericson commented that the plans for the gun range were being rolled out during a pandemic.

“Although the agencies in question state that they have complied with all the procedures with regard to the public and governing bodies, this is not a time of ‘business as usual,'” the women wrote. “There needs to be additional time to review and challenge the conclusions of this report, especially with regard to our sole source of drinking water.”

The Massachusetts National Guard is now reviewing the submitted comments and, by the end of the week, expects to send its findings to the federal National Guard Bureau for environmental and legal review.

The bureau may then issue a formal finding of no significant impact for the project, or it may provide direction for follow-up action.

The Massachusetts Guard posted a lengthy statement on social media, saying that the range will meet the demands “of complex military training while demonstrating our responsibility to the community and the environment.”

Environmentally friendly copper rounds will be the only ammunition used and target areas will have bullet-trapping berms to allow for easy collection of spent ammunition.

“From sound mitigation to landscaping features, every project decision illustrates our commitment to safety, conservation and sustainable development,” the statement said. “Several years of project planning and design have culminated in a proposal that meets a high standard for wildlife habitat and water quality.”

According to the National Guard, much of the habitat and rare species mitigation has already been put in place, and 4 acres of rare species habitat are being preserved for every acre affected. The Francis Crane Wildlife Management area also will be expanded through direct transfer of 260 acres.


© 2020 Cape Cod Times