The Falmouth Select Board wants to meet with representatives from Joint Base Cape Cod to discuss the proposed Massachusetts Army National Guard Machine Gun Firing Range at Camp Edwards.
The $11 million machine gun firing range is an expansion of the existing range at the base and would require clearing 170.5 acres of forested land to accommodate the range footprint, facilities, lighting, utilities, access, road maintenance and firebreaks.
“In reading the information provided in our packet, it is kind of concerning to me that this review and this process has been going on for two to three years,” board member Douglas C. Brown said during the select board meeting Monday, September 21. “We have the base leaders come out to us every year and give us an update. It is unfortunate we had to find this out in a clip in the newspaper instead of in, at least, a letter to us.”
Board member Douglas H. Jones said it went beyond concerning.
“I’d raise it above disappointed. I’m actually quite angry. With the detail that we get in that report every year as to what is going on up at the base, they did not mention this. I just think that is a real affront to the relationship they are trying to establish as being good neighbors of ours, to not tell us they were thinking of doing this,” he said.
On August 31, Town Manager Julian M. Suso sent a letter noting opposition to the machine gun firing range due to its environmental impacts.
“The board has received consider email communications from residents raising significant concerns regarding this proposed clear-cutting of 170 forested acres on Joint Base Cape Cod and the continued concerns about environmental damage potentially caused by the routine operation of this firing range to be located within the extremely sensitive Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve,” Mr. Suso wrote.
As the board did not previously discuss the machine gun firing range, the letter was written by the town manager on behalf of select board chairwoman Megan E. English Braga and vice chairman Brown. Noting the deadline for comments was September 7, Ms. English Braga said it was important for the town to provide this input.
“We worked with Julian to put something together to really, on behalf of the town, put our stake in the ground about the concerns we were hearing from out constituents,” she said.
The letter requests a formal public forum by the Massachusetts Army National Guard regarding the machine gun firing range. In addition, Mr. Suso said a representative from Joint Base Cape Cod was invited to attend Monday’s meeting.
Mr. Suso read the response from Commander Matthew Porter of the Massachusetts Army National Guard at Camp Edwards, who was unable to attend.
“We will be presenting and distributing a robust information product in the next few weeks that will answer the relevant questions we have received regarding our range project,” Commander Porter wrote. “We understand the eagerness to discuss this project, but we want to be sure we capture all the important questions and answer them in a thoughtful and succinct manner.”
Mr. Suso said while the board “anxiously awaits” this information product, it continues to encourage a public forum to discuss the machine gun firing range.
Board member Nancy R. Taylor asked if the town gets water from the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve. Mr. Suso confirmed Falmouth purchases water from the reserve every summer.
“We do rely on Joint Base Cape Cod as a significant part of the recharge of our aquifer,” board member Samuel H. Patterson said. “Any kind of activity up there, and we had that whole issue of contaminants being dumped back after World War II and the Korean War period, and we’ve been remediate that with the help of the Air Force for quite a few years, decades actually, and we’re finally getting it down to a level where it is not considered to be dangerous, but who knows?”
He said he would also like to see a copy of the environmental assessment report.
“It seems we should take a look at that to make sure there aren’t any snakes in the grass, so to speak,” Mr. Patterson said.
Ms. English Braga said Falmouth and other surrounding communities are still dealing with the fallout of that contamination.
Mr. Brown asked if it would be possible to build a range elsewhere on the base, in a location that does not require clear-cutting.
“I find that troubling, given that base has so much cleared space that is being unused, and now you’re going to go ahead and clear another 170 acres of deep forest,” he said. “I know it is a military reserve, but it is also a pretty important natural resource. I find it crazy that they just couldn’t pile up some dirt that is already cleared, like an old runway, and create a machine gun range in a different area.”
Noting how far along the project is, Mr. Brown said it might be necessary for the town to intervene with legal action if it wants to have a say in the matter. Ms. English Braga said the town could contact its representatives and legislatures to further encourage that public discussion.
“I felt a little bit like we were getting the weak blow-off to our letter, saying they want to wait and have, I don’t know, one conversation,” she said. “I do think we really need to have someone to come before this board so that the public can have the opportunity, through us, to ask questions about this project directly of the individuals involved in it.”