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Scientists Conflicted Over Machine Gun Range Proposal

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.

The Army National Guard proposal to build a machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod faced its first vote on Friday.

The members of a Science Advisory Council (SAC)— who advise a state board with final approval over the project — were conflicted, challenging the criteria used to determine the environmental impacts of the range.

The five attending scientists, with expertise in civil engineering, hydrology, chemistry, and ecology, found the Guard met wildlife habitat and groundwater protection standards, by which they’re required to evaluate projects.

But they voted to advise the state’s Environmental Management Commission — which takes the final vote on the project— to be aware that some of those standards, written in 2001 with few revisions, may be out of date.

“What I can say that we might all agree on is that the performance standards as they current exist could use a little — need to be looked at again in light of this proposed project, not to affect this project,” said Paul Cavanaugh, chair of the SAC. “But this project has revealed what I would say are some— I want to be careful how I phrase this — deficiencies is too strong a word, but I would say that based on trying to apply the performance standards to this project, it would be worth another look at the performance standards, possibly updating them to address issues we saw overlooked.”

Specifically, they noted, the standards leave out the role trees play in storing carbon, and potential noise impacts on wildlife. Questions also lingered about the potential impacts of copper rounds on groundwater.

The controversial range would be built over the drinking water supply for the Upper Cape and require clear-cutting 170 acres of land.

The SAC, which was down one member, voted unanimously to approve a statement that says, “It is the opinion of the Science Advisory Council that the proposed Multi-Purpose Machine Gun Range meets current environmental performance standards. During the review process, the SAC identified the need for review and potential revision of these standards.“

The group has no official power over the proposed machine gun range, but will pass its recommendations onto the state’s Environmental Management Commission.

Yarmouth resident Susan Starkey, commenting at the public meeting last night, echoed several Cape Codders who expressed their disapproval that the vote was taken before the public had a chance to ask questions or share their opinions.

“I implore you to do the right thing,” she said to the group of scientists, “and say we cannot in all good conscience let this go forward without more stringent review.”

The next public meeting, hosted by the EMC’s Community Advisory Council, is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, June 17, before a final vote is expected to be taken by the EMC on July 12.

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