As controversy continues to swirl around plans to construct a new Multipurpose Machine Gun Range on Cape Edwards, the Army National Guard has launched a series of public tours of the base, looking to connect with the outside community and calm the concerns.

Opponents cite conservation concerns given the National Guard’s plan to clear-cut more than 170 acres of forest and to locate the range atop the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve.

Major Alexander McDonough, plans and training officer for Camp Edwards, and Jacob C. McCumber, the natural resources and integrated training area management program manager for the Massachusetts Army National Guard, conducted a recent public tour. Both men were adamant in their comments that the new firing range will not jeopardize the environment, notably the water reserve.

“We do not want to add anything into the groundwater that would contaminate the area,” Maj. McDonough assured the group.

“We are all extremely committed to what we do here,” Mr. McCumber said, “and the success of integrating that conservation work, the ecosystem work, with the soldier training.”

The tour took visitors across Camp Edwards, making stops at various training sites including the indoor Asymmetric Support Training Center. The center is where soldiers get marksmanship training on various types of weapons, from M16 semi-automatic to M249 fully automatic rifles.

Firing stations have soldiers lying prone, kneeling or using a brace for support or with no support. Soldiers fire into a video screen that depicts combat scenarios, and they must meet the same training requirements of the Army’s active force, Maj. McDonough said.

The tour of the base included a stop at the site of the prospective range, the current Known Distance, or K-D, range. The new range would be constructed via an expansion of the K-D range, which currently measures about 40 acres.

The expansion would require clearing 170.5 acres of forested land surrounding the K-D range to accommodate the proposed range’s footprint, which will include eight firing lanes measuring 800 to 1,500 meters in length, facilities, lighting, utilities, access and road maintenance, and firebreaks.

An additional 199 acres of land disturbance will be needed for the range. Approximately 5,197 acres will be required to accommodate the Surface Danger Zones, the area where projectiles could fall. The cost for the project is estimated at $11.7 million.

Guard officials have said the gun range project is necessary because a multipurpose firing range does not exist within Massachusetts and soldiers must travel out of state to train. The nearest multipurpose machine gun range is more than 270 miles from Joint Base Cape Cod at Camp Ethan Allen in Jericho, Vermont.

Maj. McDonough explained that soldiers with the National Guard have to meet the same training requirements as their counterparts in the active Army. However, Guard soldiers get just one weekend a month, two weeks a year, to accomplish both administrative tasks and weapons training, he said.

“Twenty-four days is not a lot of time to meet that requirement,” he said, “and traveling to other installations eats up time so that you can’t meet all the requirements.”

The new range’s location has drawn divided reaction from the public-at-large, and considerable criticism and opposition from conservation advocacy groups such as the Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod as well as Upper Cape town officials.

In addition, the Barnstable County Board of Regional Commissioners voted unanimously this month to send two letters to the state’s Environmental Management Commission. The commission reviews projects proposed on the 15,000-acre Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve on the base.

The letters threaten legal action and call on the commission to reject the project. One letter describes the project as “illegal” and alleges that the Army National Guard failed to comply with permitting requirements and state laws and, if constructed, the range “would threaten drinking water and destroy valuable wildlife habitat.”

The sole-source aquifer beneath the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve provides as much as 3 million gallons of clean drinking water per day to the towns of Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee and Sandwich.

Mr. McCumber explained that a 1965 legislative act passed by the federal government mandated conservation and natural resources management within the US Department of Defense. The legislation also decreed formal partnerships between the defense department and state entities, he said, such as the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

The Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve was established in 2002 through state legislation after contamination, due to soldier training, was discovered. The Environmental Management Commission was created, comprised of commissioners from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Fish and Game, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The Environmental Management Commission has a dedicated environmental officer working on the base and reporting directly to the commission, Mr. McCumber said.

In addition to the commission, Mr. McCumber said, he reports regularly to the state’s Science Advisory Council and Community Advisory Council. The two councils advise the commission on information he provides, “including annual reports on everything we do from training to conservation,” he said.

“That’s the context we work in,” he said. “It’s extremely important to us; it’s really what we do.”

Maj. McDonough said the Army National Guard is committed to working with the Environmental Management Commission and the local community when it comes to any concerns residents might have. The major was asked specifically about the noise generated by range gunfire and the annoyance to neighbors and abutters.

The major said firing tests had been conducted in the area of Forestdale in Sandwich, the portion of the base that would be most affected by any noise from the new range. The results met with standards established by the Army, which are the standards referred to by the Environmental Management Commission, he said.

“The Environmental Performance Standard that governs noise says refer to the Army’s standards, essentially,” he said.

Maj. McDonough said the Guard has gone “above and beyond the requirement” for testing of noise. They have committed to the Environmental Management Commission, he said, that once the range is constructed, another live fire test will be conducted to validate the Guard’s results. If the results do not match, the Guard will work with the commission and the community “to build additional noise mitigation,” he said.

He added that the surrounding community has become accustomed to the sound of gunfire coming from the range every weekend since the early 2000s.

Relative to environmental impact, Maj. McDonough said the Guard has three entities with procedures that they have to follow and meet: the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act; the National Environmental Protection Act; and Chapter 47 of the Acts of 2002, which relates directly to the Environmental Management Commission.

He said the state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs issued MEPA approval for the project. An environmental assessment of the gun range project, completed by Guard staff, resulted in a Finding of No Significant Impact, or FONSI, which was ultimately approved under the National Environmental Protection Act, he said.

“The lead agency does the FONSI, which means that any disturbance we cause has been mitigated,” he said.

The major said the Environmental Management Commission has not issued a finding on the project yet. However, the Science Advisory Council has recommended to the commission that the range meets the current requirements of Environmental Planning Services.

Conservation and environmental advocacy groups have called for an independent review of the project, to be done by experts not connected to the Guard. Maj. McDonough said that during MEPA’s public comment period on the project, only a handful of agencies—the Cape Cod Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, MassDEP and the Environmental Management Commissionresponded. All four commented that the range meets all requirements, he said.

Last month, General Christopher Faux, executive director of Joint Base Cape Cod, in emails to the office of US Representative William R. Keating (D-Bourne) expressed concern that any further environmental review of the gun range “will sink this project.”

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