The top official at Joint Base Cape Cod expressed concern last spring in emails with congressional staffers that further environmental review of a multipurpose machine gun range proposed at the base would imperil the project.
The emails, obtained through public records requests by the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, document deteriorating relations between General Christopher Faux, executive director of Joint Base Cape Cod, and congressional staff of US Representative William R. Keating (D-Bourne) as local concern over the gun range mounted.
“Honestly, just the phrase ‘further NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] review’ or EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] coming from the delegation will sink this project,” Gen. Faux said in a March 24 email.
In another email two days later, Gen. Faux cites reports that Rep. Keating had engaged Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth A. Warren and Edward J. Markey to request further NEPA review of the project.
“If that is the case, we will most likely lose the project and its funding and will have wasted 10 years of work,” he said. “It troubles me to have to say this, but the sheer lack of communication on this project is being interpreted by the [Massachusetts Air National Guard] as a loss of the Congressman’s support and a shift toward the vocal minority.”
By April 12, when Gen. Faux sent an email to the staffers with the subject line “appalled,” he had become aware that the Massachusetts congressional delegation had sent a letter to Lieutenant General Jon Jensen, director of the Army National Guard, that called publicly for further review of the project.
“I guess this explains why my emails have been ignored for the past several weeks,” Gen. Faux said. “It’s pretty obvious that you have deliberately deceived me and my colleagues and created a false sense of trust.”
Just days earlier the Guard had announced that an Environmental Assessment of the gun range project completed by Guard staff had resulted in a finding of “No Significant Impact.” A full Environmental Impact Statement would have been required if the Guard had found that the project would result in a significant impact.
“In my 34+ years I have dedicated to country and commonwealth, I have never had to worry about a trusting relationship with ANY staffer from either side of the aisle…until now!” Gen. Faux said in the April email.
Though planned for years, the gun range project did not come to the attention of the public until last summer. The $11.5 million project as proposed would disturb about 199 acres of land, with 170 acres of clear-cutting and an additional 5,000 acres designated as Surface Danger Zones. The eight-lane range would be used for military training with weapons including grenade launchers, pistols, shotguns and machine guns.
Much of the concern surrounding the project has centered on the fact that the gun range is proposed on land designated by the state as the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve due to its location atop the sole-source aquifer that provides drinking water for residents of the Upper Cape. Residents and local officials have also raised concerns about clear-cutting, noise from the gun range and communication about the project from Joint Base officials.
The APCC, the nonprofit environmental group that obtained the emails after appealing an earlier public records request, is now calling on Governor Charles D. Baker Jr. to shelve the gun range project.
“It is clear from General Faux’s emails that the Guard was fully aware that the machine gun range project could not stand up to independent and rigorous environmental scrutiny, and the base leadership was doing everything in its power to prevent that from happening,” said Andrew R. Gottlieb, the executive director of the APCC, in a statement. “This validates our concerns that the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve is not the appropriate place for this machine gun range or this type of intensive training.”
Mr. Gottlieb said the APCC decided to file public records requests after the revelation of a June 1 email in which Gen. Faux threatened to recommend that soldiers training on the base boycott Cape businesses over a lack of support for the gun range.
“We were concerned that similar threats may have been made to our elected officials,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
The APCC first submitted a public records request seeking correspondence from Gen. Faux to federal, state, regional and local elected officials in June and then, in a second request in July, broadened the scope to include the staff of public officials.
Still, the Guard did not produce all of the email communications from Gen. Faux, though the APCC knew of the existence of the emails from communications with a member of Rep. Keating’s office.
The emails were not turned over until the APCC appealed the request to the Massachuestts Secretary of State’s office, claiming the Guard was withholding public information in violation of state law. The Guard did not return a request for comment.
“I can now see why the Guard would not want the public to see these emails,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
In public statements and forums, officials from the Guard have said that 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.
Any loss of the project at Joint Base Cape Cod “will significantly impact the readiness of not only the MA National Guard, but of the United States Army as a whole,” Gen. Faux said in the March 26 email. “Comparatively, our adversaries who have yet to provide a single fact that refutes our analysis will have set a precedent and a deadly blow to the US Military and the safety and security of this great nation based solely on their ‘feeling’ that additional study is required.”
Throughout the emails, Gen. Faux refers to those opposed to or concerned about the gun range project as a “small group of activists that manipulate facts to perpetuate their own anti-military agendas,” “the vocal minority” and “Cape Cod Democratic Socialists and several others representing the extreme left.”
During a month-long public comment period in the fall of 2020, the Guard received 367 comments from 352 commenters; 330 of the comments opposed the project, nine were in favor and 28 took a neutral position or asked for more information about the project.
“We are looking at less than 0.5 percent of the Cape’s population that have submitted questions,” Gen. Faux said in the March 24 email. “We have provided these folks with EVERY possible piece of information they could need to make an informed decision...which they obviously don’t care to make.”
“I could go on and on how this project represents an overall positive impact to the environment (copper bullets not affecting groundwater, mitigation that improves habitat, species and eventual carbon sequestration...which equates to positive impacts on climate shift),” he continued, “but it falls on deaf ears in the small fraction of citizens that represent the activists.”
Mr. Gottlieb said the descriptions of those opposed to the gun range project in the emails from Gen. Faux “cross the line for an individual representing the military who is supposed to conduct themselves in a nonpolitical manner.”
“This is the final proof needed that this project has not been managed legitimately and with fair consideration of public input,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “The Guard doesn’t get to decide whose comments are worthy of consideration, nor does it get to denigrate the public that does comment by disparaging their supposed politics.”
In recent months, the Mashpee Board of Selectmen, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Barnstable County Board of Regional Commissioners and the Cape and Islands Selectmen and Councilors Association—which represents 105 elected officials in 22 towns—have voiced opposition to the project, largely citing environmental concerns.
The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, after the threat to boycott local businesses in June, released a statement on the gun range that criticized the base for providing “virtually no outreach” about the project, and in July Gov. Baker also raised environmental concerns.