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Mass. National Guard Launches Tours of Joint Base Cape Cod, Seeking ‘Better Ways’ to Engage Public

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.
Massachusetts Army 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.

Following intense public pressure over a proposed machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod, the Massachusetts Army National Guard is now offering public tours of Camp Edwards nearly every Friday until the end of September.

The Guard describes the tour program as an opportunity for the public to learn about soldier training, water protection, and habitat conservation work.

“So, for example, you’ll see our training support center, where we do some of our virtual trainings … an old range and a current range in our inventory, and we’ll be talking about the impact area groundwater study program, and a program with natural resources,” said Maj. Alexander McDonough, the plans, training, mobilization and security officer on the base.

Officials say the three-hour tours, which can accommodate 24 people at a time, also give the public an opportunity to ask questions about base activities.

“‘What are we doing as far as groundwater cleanup? What are we doing with habitat protection and carbon sequestration?’ [That’s] the type of stuff that people have interest in,” said Col. Matthew Porter, commander at Camp Edwards. “And those are the kinds of things we can address in these tours, and it’s a very effective way because people can see it on the ground, as well.”

Guard officials had previously offered annual grassland bird tours and opportunities for veterans and other groups that requested walk-throughs, they said, but this is the first time the Guard has offered weekly tours to the wider public.

The tours mark a sharp shift in the Guard’s outreach strategy.

For nearly a decade, the Guard has been working on a proposal to site an eight-lane machine gun range directly over the 15,000-acre Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve, a protected conservation area within JBCC's Camp Edwards, which supplies most of the area's drinking water. Dozens of public officials and community members have come forward saying they had no idea that the plan was in the works and have criticized the Guard for what they called a lack of transparency.

Opponents have also raised concerns about increased traffic, noise, habitat destruction, deforestation, and whether chemicals associated with expended ammunition could contaminate the drinking water source.

At past meetings, Porter has said the Guard has, in fact, discussed the proposal with elected officials and held public meetings about the proposed range, but he acknowledged those efforts may not have gone far enough for some.

“We've relied heavily on public meetings,” Porter said. “We've listened to the public. That may not be the best way to reach everybody. So we're starting to experiment with different methods of reaching out to the public. So we thought a natural progression would be these tours.”

The communication breakdown appears to be circular. According to Porter, his team received very few public comments over the last few years while it was undergoing state and federal reviews, and as a result, didn’t know the public felt uninformed until this past September.

“It’s hard to know if the public feels as though they are not informed until the public tells you that they are not informed,” Porter said.

The tours will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, and the tour set for this coming Friday is full. But the Guard will hold them nearly every Friday — except Sept. 3, prior to Labor Day — until Sept. 24. Then officials will evaluate the frequency of the tours depending on demand.

Those interested in signing up for a tour can email Emily.d.kelly2.nfg@mail.mil. Full names of those interested in attending and a telephone number must be included. A confirmation email will be sent with further information including directions, meeting location and parking.

More information about the Massachusetts Army National Guard's plans can be found on its website.

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