Camp Edwards Tour, September 17, 2021

An M249 belt-fed light machine gun in the indoor range at the Asymmetric Threat Training Facility. The weapons at the indoor range are modified to act and operate exactly like the standard weapons but do not shoot live rounds.

One more time, in case you missed it: The Massachusetts Army National Guard has proposed an eight-lane, multipurpose machine gun range on Camp Edwards, part of Joint Base Cape Cod. The proposal includes clear cutting thousands of trees over 170 acres, further disrupting another 190 acres for parking lots, roadways, and facilities, establishing a danger zone of 5,000 acres for public safety and projectile recovery, and constructing a control tower, range classroom and other facilities. The only stated reason for proposing the range is the need for those Massachusetts Guard members who wish to qualify with machine guns having to go to Fort Ethan Allen in Vermont.

As I was explaining machine gun range issues to a friend, she suddenly exclaimed, “The boys must have their toys!” Although I never heard this phrase during my active duty in the Army, I was struck by how she summarized the problem. The leadership of the Army National Guard has indeed demonstrated tunnel vision in its attempt to build an $11.5 million, multipurpose machine gun range in our community. By tunnel vision, I mean that the Guard is predisposed to a single choice without considering any other factors.

Furthermore, the Guard sometimes insults the public:

Regardless of past assurances, this area constituted an EPA Superfund site where over 1.2 billion tax dollars have been spent so far trying to clean up previous military-caused environmental degradation. Some of these activities will take another 25 years.

Brigadier General (retired) Christopher Faux serves as the executive director of Joint Base Cape Cod, and happens to hold a degree in environmental engineering. As part of the Guard’s tunnel vision, Faux has threatened Upper Cape businesses that do not support the machine gun range with confining visiting troops to the base away from local restaurants and businesses, as well as encouraging base employees to shop over the bridge. In addition, in emails belatedly revealed through a public records request, Gen. Faux indicated that “the machine gun range could not sustain the scrutiny of a more intensive environmental review, and if such a review was required, the Guard ‘will most likely lose the project and its funding.’”

The Guard has initiated a charm offensive, with representatives finally appearing (nine years after the range proposal was first initiated) before Upper Cape town select boards and offering feel-good bus tours of Camp Edwards for interested citizens. The Guard thinks that some of its problems are simply community relations. and now has hired two community relations staff members.

The National Guard has chosen to break with a 20-year cooperative partnership—a national model—of working together with the community to protect the Upper Cape’s drinking water and wildlife.

Guard leaders have chosen to ignore “inconvenient” facts:

That the 15,000 acres of what we call Camp Edwards is, by law, public conservation land that it is leasing; this was established in Chapter 47 of the commonwealth’s laws of 2002. Few if any other military installations are located on public conservation land.

That these 15,000 acres sit on top of the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve, the sole-source aquifer providing drinking water for some 150,000 residents plus visitors across six towns, and that range activities, including the copper bullets proposed, might endanger our water supply. Copper has already been designated as a water pollutant by the US Geological Survey. The US Environmental Protection Agency, Region I, is currently reviewing this.

That a similar proposal was first made in 1998, and rejected then for all the environmental challenges it provoked. The new proposal neglects the fact that little has changed to warrant revisiting putting a large machine gun range on Cape Cod.

That the Army is already constructing another multipurpose machine gun range in Massachusetts on centrally located Fort Devens RFTA (Reserve Forces Training Area). Called the premier Army Reserve operation in New England, the Fort Devens range is quite similar in many ways to the one on Fort Ethan Allen.

That the environmental standards currently in use are two decades old and, among other things, do not factor in climate change and carbon sequestration. Although the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) voted in favor of the range project in a Zoom meeting, two of the five members present said that the standards they were using were outdated, and the SAC chair suggested that this kind of military training just might violate Chapter 47’s safeguards.

That the specifications for the M240 and M240B machine guns indicate that their capacity is to fire between 550 and 950 rounds per minute. A Camp Edwards spokesman said that current training on existing small arms ranges fires only six to 10 bullets at a time, failing to fully acknowledge the potential firings.

That the potential for additional machine gun noise in our communities has been badly underestimated by a one-day, quickie “study” six years ago.

What needs to be done before a final decision is made?

The Environmental Standards require careful, participative review—much like the original process two decades ago—and modernization.

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) needs to be executed by a well-qualified, experienced, outside firm, so that Upper Cape citizens can have confidence in the conclusions. Findings from the EPA Region I review of potential pollution from the range should be included.

With the revised environmental standards and the EIS, the SAC and the Community Advisory Committee should each review the Guard’s proposal.

Along the way, the commander of the Massachusetts National Guard, Governor Charlie Baker, and Cabinet Environment and Energy Secretary Katie Theoharides should consider the many problems raised by the Guard’s proposal.

The State Environmental Management Commission then could properly consider the Guard’s proposal.

Finally, in accordance with Article 97 of the state constitution, a two-thirds majority of each house of the state Legislature would need to approve constructing these new facilities.

The reasons for objecting to the proposed machine gun range center on the dangerous impact on our drinking water, climate change efforts, protected wildlife species, noise pollution, and transportation corridors on the Upper Cape. Many also believe that the proposal is unlawful under Massachusetts law.

Some in our community feel that opposition to the proposed range is either anti-military or anti-gun. It is neither. But the Army National Guard cannot get beyond its tunnel vision as to whether Camp Edwards is the right place to locate a multipurpose machine gun range.

To conclude, in the absence of a far more thorough and transparent process plus a convincing analysis, this is a machine gun range that the Massachusetts Army National Guard may want but does not actually need, that the residents of Cape Cod oppose and that the Cape’s environment cannot indulge.

Frederick Lane lives in East Sandwich, is a Vietnam veteran, and is professor emeritus of public affairs at Baruch College of City University of New York.

Frederick Lane lives in East Sandwich, is a Vietnam veteran, and is professor emeritus of public affairs at Baruch College of City University of New York.

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