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Environmentalists, Social Justice Activists Set Rally to Oppose Proposed Machine Gun Range

Jeremy Shea protests against the Mass. Army National Guard's proposed machine gun range outside the Forestdale School in Sandwich on Oct. 12, 2020.
Eve Zuckoff
Jeremy Shea protests against the Mass. Army National Guard's proposed machine gun range outside the Forestdale School in Sandwich on Oct. 12, 2020.

Environmental and social justice groups are rallying against the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s proposal to build an eight-lane machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod.

They’ll be joined at an event on Saturday by state lawmakers, who are calling for a suspension of any further action on the $11.5 million project pending additional input from the community.

More than a dozen environmental, social justice, and Democratic groups plan to gather at Forestdale Elementary School from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday. Attendees are being encouraged to wear blue because, organizers say, activity on the proposed range could pollute the drinking water that runs underneath the base and serves Upper Cape towns.

“Speakers [at the rally] will talk about why they are opposed to this plan, and present historic background information along with environmental, social, economic, and cultural concerns about why this plan profoundly threatens Cape Cod’s natural and social environments, our economy, and our coastal and inland waters,” according to a press release.

The range would require the clearcutting of 170 acres of trees and be built on top of the 15,000-acre Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve, which was polluted by military activity for years. Guard officials have said the range is essential for troop training and that extensive mitigation efforts would more than offset any environmental impacts.

Attendees will also be encouraged to sign petitions and write emailsof concern to the Massachusetts Environmental Management Commission, (env-mgmt@mass.gov), which has the power of final approval on the project.

Already, groups opposing the proposed range have gathered more than 1,900 signatures for a change.org petition.

Organizer Rosemary Carey, with the environmental group 350 Cape Cod, said they’re expecting more than 100 people to attend.

“It’s a Saturday on Cape Cod — of course people want to be on the beach, but this is so important, and we’re really getting a lot of interest,” she said.

Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, is scheduled to be among the speakers at the rally. He and state Sen. Susan Moran, D-Falmouth, filed identical bills in the House and Senate that would strengthen the environmental standards that base projects are measured against and increase public involvement.

“The standards that are available and upon which this project was reviewed were sort of put together years ago,” Moran said, “and there's been no opportunity to update them to current standards of the water quality and potential chemical seepage, the sort of problems that the base had been plagued with and is still undergoing cleanup from right now.”

This legislation, she added, should be a roadmap for what National Guard officials and regulators should be doing going forward, “which is update the data points so that we can measure the potential effects accurately and have a process where the community is aware and has a chance to ask questions and a better sited project can come about.”

The legislation would make it more difficult to approve projects that destroy 10 or more acres of habitat on the base and would require more input from surrounding towns, community groups, and the Cape Cod Commission, among others.

The legislation by Moran and Fernandes is described in its text as “an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public safety and health.”

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