Residents of Cape Cod who attended a virtual public meeting to speak against a machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod found that their voices could not be heard.
A joint meeting of the Environmental Management Commission Science Advisory Council and Community Advisory Council started with nearly 20 minutes of technical difficulties Thursday, October 8.
The public meeting was scheduled to present information on a proposed machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod.
The meeting was held on Zoom, which limited the number of participants to 100. The cap was met quickly, meaning that people who wanted to be heard were unable to join the meeting.
This limit did not sit well with participants, who felt that the voices of Barnstable County residents were not being heard. Several people wrote in the chat window that they felt the council should reschedule the meeting with an upgraded Zoom account to allow more people to participate.
“That is completely unacceptable to limit the number of participants to 100 and is a blatant move to censor public outcry about this,” Cole Silva wrote.
Further, with 20 minutes of the meeting spent on working through muting and unmuting issues, participants took to the chat window to express concern that time would run out for public comment.
Meeting chairwoman Mimi McConnell took a moment to state that the both councils always allow for public comment in their meetings and that this one would be no different. The statement did nothing to mollify the citizens on the meeting.
Ms. McConnell also said they would be willing to extend the end time of the meeting to make sure everyone was heard.
Still, as members of the council presented about how the range is not expected to harm the environment, residents continued to post their questions and concerns.
By Enterprise deadline, no members of the public had been able to speak orally about their concerns and all comments were made in the chat window.
Most concerns were around the potential environmental impacts of the range.
“Wildlife and forested areas on Cape Cod have always been given the lowest priority,” wrote Lou-Anne Conroy.
Specifically, Ms. Conroy expressed concern about groundwater contamination. She said that after the plumes that contaminated the groundwater in many Cape communities, the range was a hard sell.
“You need to do a better job convincing us that you have the environment protection in mind and as a priority,” she wrote.
When it was mentioned in the presentation that one of the reasons for choosing to construct the range on the base was so that military personnel would not have to travel a long distance to receive machine gun training, Ms. Conroy stated it is not unusual for someone to have to travel off Cape Cod for work purposes.
“We all have to go off-Cape to attend various conferences and institutions,” she wrote. “It should be fine to continue to go off Cape to practice machine guns.”
Others took issue with the cutting down of trees to accommodate the range.
Becca Webb asked how removing 170 acres of forest would constitute effective land management, given that the land itself was designed for water quality and wildlife habitat. Ms. Conroy said there are very few pine barrens left on Cape and clear cutting them does not equal sustainability in this region.
“They’re willfully ignoring the environmental impact so they can get better at killing people,” Mr. Silva said. “Killing the planet and people in one fell swoop.”
The proposed new firing range would be located on an expansion of an existing range on the base. The expansion would require clearing 170.5 acres of forested land to accommodate the range footprint, facilities, lighting, utilities, access and road maintenance, and firebreaks. The projected cost for the project is estimated at $11 million.
The proposed site for the new firing range is the former Known Distance Range within the training area on Camp Edwards. The location is within the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve, making it subject to state-established environmental performance standards.
The Known Distance Range currently measures approximately 40 acres, Mr. Veitch said. However, an additional 170.5 acres will have to be cleared to accommodate the eight lanes of the new range, he said, making it a total of 210.5 acres.
The project plan also includes the creation of a Surface Danger Zones area on approximately 5,197 acres, or more than one-third of the 15,000-acre Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve, where projectiles fired on the range would land.
Officials with the Massachusetts Army National Guard, the proponents of the firing range project, stated there is no risk of water contamination because lead bullets will not be fired at the new range. National Guard officials also assert that the project will meet all environmental standards established under Massachusetts state law.
The Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve was established for the permanent protection of drinking water resources and wildlife habitat and compatible military training. The project site is located within the mapped area for state and federally listed rare species. The proposed area is also located over the groundwater lens that provides drinking water for the towns of Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth and Mashpee.
Association to Preserve Cape Cod Executive Director Andrew Gottlieb noted that Joint Base Cape Cod sits “atop the largest source of freshwater on Cape Cod.” The need for military training has been balanced through the years with the need to protect the Cape’s environment “through honest assessment of the risks and ways to manage them,” he said.
Mr. Gottlieb added that the APCC, whose headquarters is in Dennis, questions why the National Guard dismissed from further analysis the possibility of locating the firing range on a different base. Another base in Massachusetts, he said, “may have the capacity for the training site and would result in less impact on environmentally sensitive land and natural resources.”
An Environmental Assessment and Draft Finding of No Significant Impact for the firing range project has been posted on the Massachusetts Army National Guard website.
Donald H. Veitch, public affairs officer for the Massachusetts National Guard, said the new range will be outfitted with berms behind each target “to trap the bullets for easy removal.” Mr. Veitch added that the bullets used will not pose a health threat because they will be made of copper, not lead.
“The MPMG (Multi-Purpose Machine Gun range) will use copper ammunition only,” he said. “Lead will be prohibited for use and is generally being phased out across the Army.”
A May 2018 article published at ScienceDaily.com suggested that “even small quantities of copper” can be injurious to organisms found in healthy water. The article cited a study done at the Technical Institute of Munich, which concluded that “if lead shot should be banned for the reason of environmental protection, the current findings indicate that a prohibition on copper and zinc for manufacturing of shot should also be called for.”
Mr. Veitch emphasized that management of the new firing range, as with other JBCC ranges, will include “practicable metal recovery and recycling, prevention of fragmentation and ricochets and prevention of subsurface percolation of residue.” An Operational Maintenance and Monitoring Plan will require the National Guard “to conduct regular groundwater and soil sampling to determine if range operations contribute contamination to the environment,” he said.
The proposed site for the new firing range, Mr. Veitch said, is the former Known Distance Range, located within the training area on Camp Edwards. The location is within the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve, making it subject to state-established Environmental Performance Standards.
The National Guard has argued that the new range is needed because there is no machine gun firing range in Massachusetts that meets Army standards. For that reason, JBCC personnel have to travel “out of state to meet their full training requirements.”
Installation of the firing range, the Guard said, “would ensure the continued and long-term viability of Camp Edwards to support [the National Guard’s] and other military users’ assigned training missions.”
According to the National Guard’s filing, the project requires review by the Environmental Management Commission, as well as a Conservation and Management Permit from the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. It also requires review and approval by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office.
“Because this project is being undertaken by a state agency, MEPA jurisdiction is broad and extends to all aspects of the project that are likely, directly or indirectly, to cause Damage to the Environment as defined in the MEPA regulations,” the Guard’s filing stated.
JBCC is already monitoring and working to rectify a different water contamination issue of its doing. Contaminants have been found in groundwater in Pocasset, the result of oil spills at the Otis Rotary in 1997 and 2000 that were contained by JBCC firefighters who used firefighter foam.
The foam contained the hazardous chemicals perfluoroalkyl substances and perfluorooctanoic acid. PFAS and PFOA contamination has been found in off-base private wells in Pocasset.