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Falmouth Sets Public Meeting on Proposed Machine Gun Range — Whether or Not Guard Officials Attend

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Massachusetts National Guard
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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 public meeting has been scheduled for next month to allow Falmouth residents to share their thoughts on a proposed machine gun range at Joint Base Cape Cod — whether or not base officials are present.

The meeting, tentatively set for Thursday, August 26, at 6 p.m., at Falmouth High School, will be an opportunity for residents to share their thoughts with state lawmakers and the Select Board, before it takes a formal position on the proposed range.

Nancy Taylor, vice chair of the Falmouth Select Board, said local lawmakers decided this week to schedule the meeting without first confirming whether Guard officials are available that evening. The decision was driven, Taylor said, by a feeling of frustration and need to get the ball rolling.

“We need to make an informed decision. We need to hear from the National Guard and we need to hear from the citizens of Falmouth,” she said. “And that — to me — that wraps it up kind of in a nutshell, that we have not been able to do that.”

Taylor said the town has gone back and forth with Guard staff on setting a meeting date, but ultimately the conversations have been fruitless.

“It's really important for the town of Falmouth and certainly the Select Board … to understand this project and understand potential risks and the work they've done up to this point,” Taylor said. “And there are a lot of pieces that we just have not been able to get answered. And I think that's what's caused the frustration.”

Guard representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment or answer whether officials would make themselves available at the meeting, which could be pushed to September 2, depending on the availability of state officials.

Once a date is finalized, the town manager’s office will post the notice online and the event will be open to all members of the community.

So far, Taylor said, the board has heard only from those who are opposed to the range.

“We've heard from people who are opposed. I'm sure there will be people who attend to who are in favor,” Taylor said. “We just need to hear, as a board, the opinions of our community who we have been chosen to represent.”

How Falmouth’s Frustration Got ‘Uncorked’

Since last August, when the Guard announced a month-long public comment period for the proposed eight-lane range in the Cape Cod Times, the informed public and elected leaders have said they knew little about the proposal. The plan calls for clear-cutting 170 acres of trees, and Guard officials say it has been in the works for about a decade.

In recent months, the town of Mashpee, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Barnstable County Commission, and Cape and Islands Selectmen and Councilors Association, have expressed opposition to the range, primarily over environmental concerns.

While environmentalists and locals are concerned about noise, traffic, deforestation, and potential impacts on groundwater that runs beneath the base, many have also questioned the transparency of the process.

“I don't think that the information has been well publicized at all,” Taylor said. “And I think that's sort of how this frustration kept building. So I think that because we felt like we haven't really known about the specifics of this project, and then we try to set a date to have them come and give [those details] to us, the frustration, I think, just kind of became uncorked [at the Select Board meeting].”

What Will the Guard Do Next?

Guard officials have maintained that the $11.5 million project is necessary for soldier training and that, during the entire process, the Guard has provided updates to Upper Cape towns and its oversight body, the Massachusetts Environmental Management Commission, which is expected to vote on the range proposal later this fall.

Taylor said she hopes Guard officials will still decide to present the project to the public next month.

“I’m an optimist. I hope the National Guard will take us up on this, and I hope they will come on the 26th, and do their presentation,” she said, “and also be open, and listen to the concerns that some folks in Falmouth have.”