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Protest Against Proposed Machine Gun Range Draws Large Crowd

MGR June Protest
Eve Zuckoff
Many protestors standing outside Forestdale School wore blue to represent water protection and the fragile “blue planet” they say would be harmed by the machine gun range.

More than 150 people opposed to the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s plan to build a machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod gathered for a rally over the weekend.

Many of the activists, lawmakers, and parents who came to Forestdale School in Sandwich voiced concerns about the Guard’s proposal to clear-cut 170 acres of dense forest and place the range on a watershed protection area that provides drinking water to Upper Cape towns. Locals are also concerned about traffic, noise, and wildlife impacts.

“It’s not about opposing the military or opposing the National Guard,” said Sandra Faiman-Silva, a longtime Falmouth resident who said the well on her property was capped after it was discovered that past military activity on the base had polluted her water. “We’re opposed to ideas and suggestions and plans that will destroy fragile ecosystems, endangered and rare species, [and] will clear-cut more than 170 acres.”

Guard officials say the range is essential for soldier training and that environmental concerns have been taken into account through a mitigation plan. The Guard concluded that the range would have “no significant” environmental impacts in its self-produced Environmental Assessment, which has since been questioned by skeptics, including U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, whose district includes the base, and Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.

MGR June Protest 2
Eve Zuckoff
About half-a-dozen speakers shared their opposition to the proposed machine gun range. The rally is part of a groundswell of activism decrying the potential environmental impact of the range.

In the last month, the Barnstable County Commission, Cape and Islands Selectmen and Councilors Association, and most recently, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe have expressed opposition to the range, primarily over environmental concerns.

Jodi Keegan, Lily of the Waters, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, was brought to tears when she spoke to the crowd on Saturday.

“It’s important for us —if we want to move forward and we hope to have a place for our children to live— that we remember to respect the relationships that we have with the land, the trees, the animals, and the water,” she said.

More than 2,000 signatures have also been added to a petition.

“When we gathered in the same spot in October 2020 there were probably 40 people here,” said Keith Lewison, an environmental organizer with the Sierra Club. “Today there are three times that. That’s a sign of increased awareness and knowledge.”

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, told the crowd that 20 years ago the area where the range would be placed was identified as critical for habitat preservation and watershed protection — after toxic waste from military activity seeped into drinking water.

“Now 20 years later, what are they doing? They’re taking this reserve and they’re clearcutting 170 acres off of it to put in a machine gun range,” he said, as the crowd booed in response.

Fernandes and state Sen. Susan Moran, D-Falmouth, filed legislation last week that would strengthen the environmental standards that base projects are measured against and increase public involvement.

The state Environmental Management Commission has final regulatory say over the plan – although protestors were already cheering the potential of litigation if the range is approved.

“This was our protected land for us because of their environmental mistakes,” said Fernandes, “and we’re not going to let this happen.”

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