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Nearly a year after damaging report, locals wonder where EPA stands on proposed machine gun range

Elodie Reed / Vermont Public
The .50 caliber machine gun, informally known as “Ma Deuce” has an effective range of 2,000 yards and a maximum effective range of 2,200 yards when fired from a tripod.

Activists and environmentalists say they’re eager for an update 11 months after the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report that found a proposed machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod could create a “significant public health hazard” by contaminating drinking water.

An email pushing a “call to action” circulated earlier this month.

"The time has come for the EPA to finalize its determination that the construction of the [Multi-Purpose Machine Gun Range (MPMGR)] poses an unacceptable threat to the Upper Cape water supply,” staff from the Association to Preserve Cape Cod sent in an email to supporters. “We encourage you to let our congressional delegation hear again that you remain concerned with the protection of our water supply and want and expect them to support the EPA’s findings."

The water supply beneath the base serves as drinking water for upper Cape towns, and in the draft report released last April, the EPA found that if the range were built, the quantity and composition of ammunition, combined with existing aquifer damage, could produce significant harm to locals.

Activist Susan Starkey, who passed on APCC’s email, said she’s eager to see the EPA’s process move forward.

“We just want to keep at it and hope that the EPA will come out with the findings soon,” said the co-chair of Faith Communities Environmental Network. But, she added, “we're more concerned with the ultimate decision and not as worried about the [11] months.”

In a statement, an EPA spokesperson said the process is still ongoing — and offered no timeline for when they expect the draft report will be finalized and sent — with a recommendation from New England’s EPA head — to Washington D.C.. When that happens, EPA chief Michael S. Regan could effectively kill the machine gun range project by pulling federal funding.

“EPA is actively conducting a review of the proposal from the Massachusetts Army National Guard to construct a Multi-Purpose Machine Gun Range at Joint Base Cape Cod and looking forward to sharing additional details with the public and all interested stakeholders,” the spokesperson said.

After EPA officials released the draft report, the Guard had 60 days, until June 26, 2023, to submit new data or a new proposal.

At the time, EPA officials wrote that even if the Guard attempted to address their concerns about the project, “it is uncertain that any combination of operations, maintenance, and monitoring can be developed in such a way as to minimize the release of contaminants to the maximum extent feasible… and to adequately reduce the potential to contaminate the aquifer so as to create a significant public health hazard.”

Officials with the Massachusetts Army National Guard — which proposed the project — did not offer comment.

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