Reaction has been fiery by the Upper Cape business community to a proposal made by the executive director of Joint Base Cape Cod to have base employees not support local businesses. The proposal was made in response to a perceived lack of support for a new machine gun range on the base.
In an email to Christopher Adams, co-chaiman of the Military-Civilian Community Council, dated Tuesday, June 1, JBCC executive director Brigadier General (Ret.) Christopher M. Faux wrote of recommending to the Adjutant General a conditional confinement for soldiers training on the base over the summer. The recommendation, Gen. Faux said, was due to a lack of local support for the proposed gun range.
The general said he will also issue a letter to all full-time employees on the base “identifying how this lack of community support could affect their jobs/positions.” The letter will recommend base employees “spend money on the other side of the bridge; showing the community the direct impact of the loss of their employment.”
“It truly saddens me to even consider taking these steps,” Gen. Faux wrote, “but I am more saddened by the lack of support from the businesses on Cape.”
Gen. Faux has since confirmed that the Adjutant General for the Army National Guard rejected the proposal and took the general to task for even suggesting the idea.
Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer Marie J. Oliva took umbrage at the general’s suggestion that the base gets no support from the local community. Ms. Oliva said the canal region chamber “has always been supportive of Joint Base Cape Cod, with a history of serving on various task forces and committees over the years to keep the base open.”
Ms. Oliva also serves on the board of directors for the Bourne Financial Development Corporation. She described General Faux’s remarks as “unfortunate and have sent the wrong message to the community.” She said that legitimate concerns have been raised by residents over the gun range and its potential impact to the community.
“We encourage Joint Base Cape Cod to keep all options on the table in the interest of finding a suitable outcome to this issue that will allay the concerns raised by the community at large,” she wrote in an email.
Peter J. Meier, chairman of the Bourne Board of Selectmen, called the general’s comments “way out of line.” Mr. Meier, who has also served on the Bourne Planning Board, has been a longtime advocate for current businesses in Buzzards Bay and for bringing new business to town.
“To go after the local businesses when COVID hurt those businesses, there was no call for that,” he said.
Mr. Meier noted that the general’s position as executive director for the base is a stressful one. However, emotions have to be held in check, he said.
“The higher up the ladder you go, the higher a standard you’re held to,” Mr. Meier said. “Think before you put something in print because you’ll always have to live with it.”
Thomas van Zabern is the president of the board of directors for the Falmouth Village Association, a group of local business folks whose objective is to work for the betterment of Main Street businesses. The association’s mission, in part, is to “provide a forum for the exchange of ideas relative to problems and opportunities affecting its members” as well as “a voice to government and the public in issues important to its members.”
Mr. van Zabern, who is also co-owner of Palmer House Inn in Falmouth, said he brought the general’s comments to the attention of his fellow board members, and they were “none too happy about it.” He said the association was taken aback by the general’s reaction, given the support the Falmouth Village Association and its members have shown the base, particularly in the last year with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re honestly not understanding the aggressive tone coming from the base,” he said. “The business community has been supportive of the base, and I’m not seeing any change in that; but we are united in being dismayed by the verbiage coming from up there.”
Sandwich Chamber of Commerce executive director Denise M. Dever said she was “disheartened” by what the general suggested. Ms. Dever said the general’s idea would simply add to the tribulations local businesses have had to endure for the past year and a half, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To suggest they need to be hurt again because the Joint Base Cape Cod is not getting the support they feel they should get is out of line and uncalled for,” she said.
Katy Acheson, executive director of the Mashpee Chamber of Commerce, echoed the sentiment that so many business people have voiced. She said it is never a good time to bully people into showing support, but especially now, with so many businesses struggling to survive in the wake of the pandemic, is the worst possible time.
“They haven’t done anything to provoke a threat,” she said of the business community, “and going about it this way is not going to get him that support.”
The gun range project would be located on a section of the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve. It would consist of eight different firing lanes that are 800 meters long. Up to 170.5 acres of tree clearance and 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 project is projected to cost $11.5 million.
Last Thursday, June 3, the Science Advisory Council gave its approval for the gun range, despite reservations expressed by members over potential environmental impacts. The council concluded that the range meets current environmental performance standards. However, council members questioned whether enough research had been done into the impact on the environment of copper ammunition as well as the clear-cutting of the hundreds of acres of forested land to create the gun range.
Earlier this month, the National Guard Bureau released a Finding of No Significant Impact report on the proposed range. The report concluded that “implementation of the proposed action would not have a significant impact on the quality of the human or natural environment.”
The Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod has consistently criticized the findings in the report. The APCC has argued that the report showing no significant impact to the environment was conducted by the Army National Guard and not an outside, independent agency.
In his email, Gen. Faux noted that the Army National Guard has “scientifically proven without question that our project will not only have no impact on ground water quality but will positively impact listed species and their respective habitats.”
“Yet the only folks that speak up are naysayers, activists and anti-military groups,” the general wrote. “They are the only ones contacting the delegation and swaying opinions against our project.”
Addressing the proposed firing range, Mr. van Zabern said he could more readily understand Gen. Faux’s position if the base did not have a history with water contamination in the area. The base has spent millions of dollars trying to clean up neighborhoods in Pocasset from contaminants such as perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFAS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
The substances were present in foam used by base firefighters to contain oil spills when rollovers occurred at the Otis Rotary in 1997 and 2000. Some Pocasset residents still can only drink bottled water because the contaminants are still present in the groundwater.
“I’m having a hard time arguing with the people who want a full environmental review before anything is built,” Mr. van Zabern said of people opposed to the gun range.