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Federal Lawmakers from Mass. Call for Added Scrutiny of Proposed Machine Gun Range

Massachusetts Army National Guard
The red outline on this map of Camp Edwards shows where the Army National Guard is proposing an eight-lane machine gun range. The surface danger zone, where projectiles could land, is highlighted in pink.

Members of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation are calling for a closer look at the environmental impacts of a proposed machine gun range that the Massachusetts Army National Guard wants to build on Joint Base Cape Cod.

In a letter, Rep. Bill Keating and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey said the overwhelming majority of constituents who have contacted their offices believe that further review of the project should be required.

“We believe in the mission of the Guard, and we also agree with our constituents that our State [and] Federal government has an obligation to take all possible care in determining any potential impacts that the construction of this range may incur,” the letter says, “even if that means going above and beyond what is required by statute.”

They took specific aim at the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s draft environmental assessment, which found that the range would have “no significant impact” on the surrounding environment.

Local lawmakers, environmentalists, and abutters have criticized that finding over concerns that the range would require the clearcutting of 170 acres of trees and would be placed over the sole drinking water source for upper Cape towns.

At several public meetings, guard officials have maintained that the proposal will not contaminate the environment or local drinking water, and argue the eight-lane range is necessary for soldiers to receive required arms training and meet weapons qualifications. They currently struggle as they have to travel long distances to meet these requirements.

Also, to reduce the impacts of the machine gun range, the guard is proposing a four-to-one mitigation ratio, meaning that four acres would be preserved on the base for every one acre impacted. This would include an expansion of the Crane Wildlife Management Area just south of the base through a direct land transfer of 260 acres.

At a meeting in December, Lt. Col. Matthew Porter, an administrative officer on the base, added that environmental protection is a top priority.

“The staff here at Camp Edwards would never do anything that would put the Upper Cape water supply at risk,” he said. “Our soldiers — the people that work on the base — are members of the community in Falmouth, Bourne, [and] Sandwich, and the last thing we want to do is to harm the environment in our community, which is also your community.”

In an email sent earlier this month, an official with the Massachusetts Army National Guard said the National Guard Bureau, a federal agency that oversees all state militias, would soon sign off on the draft finding of “no significant impact.” With that signature, the proposed range could go before the Massachusetts Environmental Management Commission, which has the power of final approval.

But this new letter from members of the state’s congressional delegation could interrupt the process. They asked the National Guard Bureau to consider requiring the Massachusetts Army National Guard to produce a much more robust and time consuming environmental evaluation.

"On behalf of our constituents, we respectfully request that you determine whether a full Environmental Impact Statement is warranted,” the letter says, “and that you include consideration of stakeholder input from both abutters and those who rely on water from Cape Cod’s sole source aquifer."

The federal lawmakers also requested a congressional staff briefing on the machine gun range proposal, including details about the finding of no significant environmental impact.

If the National Guard Bureau agrees, final approval for the machine gun range project could be delayed by years and the Guard would be forced to hold many more public meetings, which activists have been calling for since August.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.