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A proposed machine gun range on the Cape has come under fire. A second in the state just got funded

A training image on the Fort Devens website.
A training image on the Fort Devens website.

As plans to build a machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod move forward amid ongoing opposition, the federal government has just awarded a construction contract to build a similar range at a military training site in Worcester County.

A representative for the Massachusetts Army National Guard said the range on Fort Devens will feature four lanes and primarily serve members of the Army Reserve —
compared to the Cape’s eight-lane range that will serve members of the Guard.

“The Department of Defense has laid out a plan that a multipurpose machine gun range should be 10 lanes. In order to fit that size lane, we would have to have a much bigger footprint at Camp Edwards [located on the 22,000-acre Joint Base Cape Cod] than we want to remove from the area,” said Don Veitch, public affairs officer for the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

The Cape range will require the clearcutting of 170 acres, Veitch said, so the Guard has reduced the size to eight lanes to minimize the environmental impacts.

“Fort Devens can only fit four lanes in and it doesn't go out as far, so it doesn't adequately meet the National Guard's training requirements,” Veitch said.

The 1,500 meter lane proposed for Camp Edwards wouldn’t fit on Fort Devens, Veitch said. He said the longer lane is necessary for members of the Guard to complete annual training requirements.

The Guard has maintained that a key reason for the Cape range is travel time; soldiers in the Guard have had to drive to training sites with machine gun ranges in Vermont and New Jersey to complete required training each year.

But opponents to the Cape range warn that the project would destroy valuable wildlife habitat and could pollute drinking water that runs beneath the base. They say the Cape range never should have been considered as a suitable site for a machine gun range and the momentum at Fort Devens is more evidence of a flawed process.

“If the machine gun range at Joint Base Cape Cod is what they need to achieve their training objectives, then what’s the justification of spending almost $8 million in taxpayer money on the facility at Devens?” posed Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. The organization has been a vocal opponent of the range. “If you need Devens in order for the Cape project to meet its objectives, that should have been discussed and revealed to the public, but it wasn’t.”

Criticisms over the Guard’s transparency have run rampant over the last year, in part prompting the Barnstable County Board of Regional Commissioners to threaten legal action.

One misconception, said Veitch, is that while members of the Guard do periodically use Fort Devens, the Army National Guard and Army Reserve are distinct.

“We have different missions. While we both support the federal government when we're on active duty, the National Guard are the ones that are responding to COVID. They're the ones that are out there on the marathon route. They're the ones that are driving the school busses. They're the ones that respond to all of our homeland emergencies,” he said. “And so it's important to note that there is a distinct difference.”

There are just under 6,000 Army National Guardsmen and 2,100 Air National Guardsmen in the Massachusetts National Guard.

Still, he added, the machine gun range at Fort Devens is a “welcome addition” to the region's training capability.

“We don't exclusively train at Camp Edwards because we go to other locations such as [Camp] Ethan Allen in Vermont and Fort Dix [in New Jersey],” he said. “This provides us another opportunity to train locally, but it isn't sufficient to meet all of our training requirements.”

The Department of Defense awarded the Stoughton-based construction company R. Zoppo Corp. a $7,933,000 firm-fixed-price contract to build the range on Fort Devens. The estimated completion date is Sept. 28, 2023.

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