Wes Ewell

On a sunny summer afternoon 30 years ago, I was sitting on my deck at Sea Watch with my friends Bill and Rita who were visiting the Cape from their home in the Pacific Northwest. In the middle of a sentence, Bill suddenly stopped and said, “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I just heard machine gun fire.” I assured him he wasn’t hearing things and that those of us who lived here were used to the noise of machine guns and artillery.

Not long after that, the gun range was shut down because of the heavy metal pollution of the ground and the aquifer beneath it from the ammunition. The National Guard appears to have been doing fine without the benefit of the gun range for decades but now seems determined to return to its old ways. Why do they need to bring the noise and pollution back to the Cape?

Despite their many disingenuous public hearings where they faced near-unanimous opposition, and leaning on a bogus environmental study that said only what they wanted to hear, it is clearly obvious the Guard is determined to reopen the range. Maybe it’s time for our state legislators to step in and stop this folly.

Bourne has changed significantly over the last 30 years, maturing from a mostly vacation and retirement place into a year-round community with a strong economic base that is less dependent than it had been on the military presence. The Coast Guard air station and housing are totally appropriate for this location, as is the Air Force cybersecurity facility, but artillery and machine gun ranges don’t fit here anymore.

(Now, for those who are about to send me hate mail, I should mention that I am a Coast Guard veteran and hold a Class A large-capacity license to carry. My father and grandfather were both expert marksmen. For me, this is a community planning issue, not a gun debate.)

It’s not common knowledge, but most of Joint Base Cape Cod belongs to the state and is leased to the federal government. Much of it was a state park before the military took over, and it will revert to parkland under a recent agreement when the military no longer needs it. This might be a good time for the state to take part of the base back. It would be well-used for hiking, camping and, most importantly, protection of the Cape’s sole-source aquifer.

An added benefit and another thing that is not commonly known is that the highest natural elevation on Cape Cod lies within the base about three-quarters of a mile from MacArthur Boulevard. The next time you are stuck in traffic coming on-Cape across the Bourne Bridge, look straight ahead at the horizon. You will see a little bump in the tree line that is Sand Hill, elevation 306 feet. If a 50-foot tower were erected on this spot, a person standing on top on a clear day could see nearly all of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands. And it would be a lot quieter than a machine gun range.

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