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‘Nonsensical,’ ‘Disingenuous,’ ‘Arrogant’: Public Slams Plan and Process 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.

A tense meeting over a proposal to build a machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod ended tonight with the vast majority voicing their opposition to the project.

The virtual three-hour town hall, attended by more than 200 people, served as the first open conversation the Massachusetts Army National Guard has held since outcry over the project began in August.

“I don’t think you understand the impact that this will have across the entire Cape,” said Elizabeth Harder, Harwich delegate to the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates. “No one’s against soldiers; nobody’s against training, but this is just not the right place for it.”

A small minority at the meeting expressed support for the project, which will allow guardsmen from around the country to train on the range each year, but environmentalists and several veterans criticized the proposal over concerns about traffic, noise, wildlife, and potential drinking water impacts. The base sits atop the Cape’s Sole Source Aquifer, which provides drinking water to nearly all residents of the Upper Cape.

In fact, one particularly explosive moment occurred during what was supposed to be a five minute break where several critics began to exchange their thoughts on the project.

“Not everybody here is against this,” interrupted Sharon Mitchell. “I am absolutely for all of this. My husband was in the military, my family’s all military. These men need the training… . [You can’t] expect your son, your daughter, your husband… to go off some place and not be trained.”

She then was cut off by several attendees who said, “nobody’s against the military. Nobody’s against being trained.” Shortly after, the chat function of the Zoom event was disabled.

Over the course of several breakout sessions, Guard officials also said they’re committed to protecting water and wildlife, and their plan includes several mitigation measures that they say will result in a net benefit to the environment. They claim it will take only 3.5 years to offset the carbon emissions from the project, and there’s no risk of soil or groundwater contamination from the copper bullets that would be used.

Jake McCumber, Guard Natural Resources Manager, added that the wildlife currently found on 170 acres that will be clearcut will not be at risk.

“That area — because it is so dense with over-mature scrub oak and over-dense with pine and oak trees — it doesn’t have wildlife population and diversity that other spots on the base do, but the base design built in a lot of avoidance measures,” said McCumber. “So the land clearing would happen in the winter the bast majority of species aren’t there at the time the land is being cleared.”

Additionally, he said, officials are spending around $250,000 on box turtle protection that includes bringing on turtle sniffing dogs that will allow scientists to relocate those in danger.

But attendees skeptical of the Guard's credibility questioned even the most basic of assurances, including the timing of the meeting.

They noted that the meeting was scheduled just weeks after the Massachusetts Army National Guard received a key federal permit. Now, it only awaits a final sign-off from the state’s Environmental Management Commission (EMC), which could come mid-July.

Many, like Margot Critchfield of Sandwich, slammed what’s perceived as the Guard’s refusal to take public input seriously.

“This conversation should have taken place at the beginning of this process, not the end,” she said. “The fact that it didn’t and the fact that this is taking place now just reeks of arrogance to me.”

Jane Ward, a 26-year US Air Force veteran, agreed, speaking directly to Guard officials.

“I would give you an A+ for acronyms, and glitz, and showmanship, and about an F for community relations,” she said. “I actually feel worse about the whole process after tonight than I did before.”

The $11.5 million plan calls for clear-cutting 170 acres of trees to make way for the 8-lane multi-purpose machine gun range. More than 5,000 acres would be required to accommodate the operation.

Mitigation for the proposed multipurpose machine-gun range includes a direct transfer of 260 acres of land to the Crane Wildlife Management area, which abuts the base.

Dates for the next public meetings, hosted by the EMC’s citizen’s advisory committee and science advisory committee are scheduled for June 3 and June 17, respectively.