Before it formalizes a position on a machine gun firing range planned for Joint Base Cape Cod, the Falmouth Select Board will require more information on the project and its possible negative impacts to the environment.
Over the past year community members, environmental activists and state and federal legislators have spoken out against the project. Concerns have been raised about how the proposed range would affect the surrounding wildlife habitat and the region’s sole source aquifer, which accounts for all of the Cape’s drinking water.
Falmouth’s viewpoint on the range was brought up at the Monday night, May 10, select board meeting, when the board discussed whether to join the Association to Preserve Cape Cod in opposing the range. However, after a brief discussion, it became clear the board felt it did not have enough information to take a formal stance and decided to invite base officials to speak at the board’s next meeting.
The federal National Guard Bureau issued a finding last month that the multipurpose machine gun range would not have a significant impact on the surrounding environment, a decision that drew harsh criticism from environmental groups, including the APCC.
“We have every right to be skeptical about what is going on at that base after the amount of contaminants dumped on Joint Base Cape Cod that contaminated our aquifer,” select board member Samuel H. Patterson said. “There are many questions that no one has addressed to us. It’s in their interest to come talk to us because they do not have a good track record,” he said.
Soil on the base was contaminated as a result of base firefighters using foam to combat oil spills at the Otis Rotary in 1997 and 2000. The foam contained the hazardous chemicals perfluoroalkyl substances and perfluorooctanoic acid. The Environmental Protection Agency in 2000 ordered the National Guard to start removing unexploded ordnance and clean up contaminated groundwater and toxic waste.
The April 30 finding allows the Guard to move forward in planning for the range. 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 proposed project will now go in front of the Massachusetts Environmental Management Commission for review and is the last regulatory hurdle before the range can be built.
“I am not sure if we have identified any environmental issues other than tree cutting and in fact, when cut, trees on sandy soil recharge the aquifer faster,” select board member Douglas C. Brown said.
“I am a clean water advocate and active with the Falmouth Water Stewards, and the group found it was a negligible impact on the aquifer because they have a good cleanup plan. I would like more information from the Guard so we’re not forced into a position of the APCC versus the military and hope there is a middle ground,” he said, noting the base’s contribution to the local economy.
Town Manager Julian M. Suso said he will invite Army National Guard officials to present at the next select board meeting to describe the layout of the multipurpose machine gun firing range and to address environmental concerns.