Top Base Official Worried About Environmental Review of Machine Gun Range, Emails Show
In an email to congressional staffers, a top officer on Joint Base Cape Cod expressed fears that a more intensive environmental review would defeat long-sought plans to build a machine gun range on the base.
That email and about 100 others released Tuesday reveal escalating tensions between Gen. Christopher Faux, executive director of the base, and the office of U.S. Rep. William Keating, a Democrat whose district includes the Cape. In one, Faux accused aides to the congressman of “deliberately deceiving me and my colleagues” and said the result was “a false sense of trust.”
The emails, which date from late 2020 to summer of 2021, detail previously unreported communications between Faux and congressional staff members, environmentalists, and local officials. They were released to the Association to Preserve Cape Cod and WCAI, following several public records requests and an appeal from the environmental group to the Massachusetts secretary of state.
Guard officials had twice previously said they produced all relevant communications between the base and congressional staffers, only to amend that claim by saying they had been unfamiliar with how their email system stored data.
The proposed range has raised the ire of environmentalists and numerous local officials, in part because its construction would require the clearcutting of 170 acres of trees. Opponents also worry that it would be located over the sole drinking water source for Upper Cape towns. Concerns raised in public meetings range from groundwater contamination, to traffic, to noise.
Emails Show an Escalation of Tensions
In a March 24, 2021, email from Faux to Keating staffers, the general said the machine gun range could not sustain the scrutiny of a more intensive environmental review, and if such a review were required, the guard “will most likely lose the project and its funding.”
“Honestly, just the phrase ‘further NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] review or EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] coming from the [congressional] delegation will sink this project and dramatically impact the MA National Guard,” Faux wrote in the email to Ryan Maddock and Andrew Nelson, two Keating aides.
That email came eight days after WCAI published a story revealing that Keating had called for more oversight to be applied to the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s proposal to build the range. “We’re going to see if we can request something that perhaps can have greater scrutiny,” Keating said at the time.
In an email to Faux, Jake McCumber, Natural Resources Director at the Base, called himself a “scattered ball of frustrated energy after reading” Keating’s statement. Col. Matthew Porter, base commander for Camp Edwards, suggested that Faux read the story when he was sitting down. “I think we just got hosed!” Porter wrote.
The next day, Faux emailed Keating’s two staffers, saying he assumed the congressman was simply “promising his constituents a ‘due-diligence’ look at a project we have already discussed in great detail.”
After seven days without a documented response, Faux emailed again, repeating his and his colleagues’ long-held position: the range is a good and important project for the base.
“I could go on and on how this project represents an overall positive impact to the environment (copper bullets not affecting ground water, mitigation that improves habitat, species and eventual carbon sequestration … which equates to positive impacts on climate shift), but it falls on deaf ears in the small fraction of citizens that represent the activists,” he wrote.
Faux went on to claim that those activists had failed to identify any specific errors or omissions in the Guard’s analysis of the project, and that range opponents were relying on delay tactics.
“We are more than happy to field the questions posed by the groups that include the Cape Cod Democratic Socialists and others representing the extreme left,” he wrote. However, he urged Keating to ask those groups to provide specific examples of alleged falsehoods in the Guard’s analysis, “not just the ultra-generalized statement requesting further analysis.”
"You have deliberately deceived me."
Two days later, on March 26, still without a documented response from Keating’s office, Faux emailed again, saying the “sheer lack of communication,” led him to believe the congressman had shifted his support “towards the vocal minority.”
“We’ve heard from multiple agencies and viewed numerous articles stating the Congress [sic] Keating is engaging Senators Warren and Markey to request further NEPA review in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement,” he wrote.
“If that is the case, we will most likely lose the project and its funding and will have wasted ten years of work, thousands of hours in preparation of an irrefutable, fact-based assessment that meticulously followed the codified NEPA process and will significantly impact the readiness of not only the MA Guard, but of the United States Army as a whole.”
By then, the Guard had already produced an Environmental Assessment that took into account the need for the 10-lane range, alternatives to the project, and impacts to groundwater, habitat, and local animal and insect species. That document, produced by Guard staff and reviewed by federal officials, resulted in a finding that the environmental impacts of the range would create “No Significant Impact.”” A full Environmental Impact Statement, a process that triggers a more comprehensive review, would have been required if the Guard’s assessment had found a potentially significant impact.
“It boggles my mind,” Faux concluded, “that in a district with more than 50,000 registered veterans … not including those still in uniform … that the feelings of several hundred could carry so much weight.”
In the weeks that followed, Keating and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey formally asked the National Guard Bureau to consider requiring the Massachusetts Army National Guard to produce a full Environmental Impact Statement.
"On behalf of our constituents, we respectfully request that you determine whether a full Environmental Impact Statement is warranted,” the lawmakers said in a letter, “and that you include consideration of stakeholder input from both abutters and those who rely on water from Cape Cod’s sole source aquifer."
On April 12, still without any response from Keating’s office, Faux sent an email to Keating staffers saying he had learned of the letter. Subject line: “appalled.”
“I guess this explains why my emails have been ignored for the past few weeks,” he began. “It’s pretty obvious that you have deliberately deceived me and my colleagues and created a false sense of trust.”
He expressed shock that the congressional delegation members would “abandon” the Guard in favor of a “small group of activists that manipulate facts to perpetuate their own anti-military agendas.”
He concluded by asking for a new point of contact for Keating’s Washington, D.C., and Cape offices.
“In my 34+ years I have dedicated to country and Commonwealth,” Faux wrote, “I have never had to worry about a trusting relationship with ANY staffer from either side of the aisle … until now!”
On Tuesday, Keating’s chief of staff denied accusations of deception, and wrote in an email that the congressman’s top priority is transparency about the Guard’s plan for the range.
Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, said the email in which Faux expressed fear of greater scrutiny is deeply revealing.
“It’s an admission that the internally run Environmental Assessment was inadequate ... and it’s the clarity we needed to show that this whole analysis was rigged to achieve an outcome that would avoid further independent third-party review of the project,” he said.
Questions of Transparency Not Helped by Missing Emails
In an email, Guard officials said the failure to release the emails sooner was caused by technical problems. Specifically, they said, their search for communications from Faux about the range picked up emails sent on desktops, but not from other devices.
“Upon receiving an appeal, in order to be thorough and ensure we produced all responsive records, we ran an additional search of General Faux’s emails through the federal email system,” wrote Timothy F. Cullen, legislative liaison for the Massachusetts National Guard. “This search yielded additional responsive records that were not previously found in our original search.”
But David Cuillier, president of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and an expert on public records requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act, says that shouldn’t happen.
“They should come up with better systems for easy retrieval of documents,” he said. “We're in the year 2021 now. It shouldn't be that foreign or strange to come up with computer systems that can do this.”
Gottlieb was not convinced either.
“Email records are a pretty easy thing to archive, save and recover. It astonishes me that an organization as organized and disciplined as the military didn’t have a systematic way to ensure a simple records request that was narrow and specific could be fulfilled without having to ask a second time, and then having to ask a third time in an appeal to a higher authority in order for this to suddenly be discovered,” he said. ”This should be troubling to anyone who cares about integrity.”
Gottlieb filed for public release of Faux’s emails twice, and said he appealed two weeks ago because he was concerned by past threats Faux made to Cape Cod businesses.
In a June email to the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, Faux threatened to keep military men and women away from local businesses unless the business community expressed support for the range. He also told the Chamber that he might recommend soldiers travel off the Cape to purchase goods and services.
In light of the newly released emails, Gottlieb said he would call on Gov. Charlie Baker, who oversees the Massachusetts National Guard, to order the Guard to shelve the machine gun range.
“The governor has no other choice if he wishes to restore faith in the integrity of the public process under his administration,” Gottlieb said.
Earlier this summer, Baker said he had questions about environmental and safety concerns around the project, questions also raised by range opponents.