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Guard, Local Officals Spar Over Impacts Of Planned Machine Gun Range

Massachusetts Army National Guard officials insisted that they carefully studied the potential impacts of a proposed machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod, and assured members of the Bourne Board of Selectmen this week that they fully considered environmental impacts.


Guard officials say they need the eight-lane machine gun range because soldiers have to travel to other states to complete required small arms training each year, and that travel time means they’re unable to receive other training, or receive weapons training to the necessary standards. 


But Stephen Mealy, Bourne’s representative to the Cape Cod Commission, said he wasn’t convinced that the Guard had fully accounted for potential impacts on traffic, groundwater, noise, and habitat.


“What I’ve got tonight was a presentation to tell me, ‘Don’t worry it’ll be ok, we know what we’re doing,’” he said at the presentation Tuesday night, “but based on the last 25 years and $1.2 billion in [contaminated groundwater] cleanup, I’d say you kind of know what you’re doing, but I’m not sure you really do.”


In 2002, a state law established the 15,000-acre Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve to make sure activities at the military base would never again negatively impact the drinking water flowing beneath it.


Lt. Col. Matthew Porter, an administrative officer on the base, said environmental protection is a top priority.


“I really want to emphasize that. The staff here at Camp Edwards would never do anything that would put the Upper Cape water supply at risk,” he said. “Our soldiers — the people that work on the base — are members of the community in Falmouth, Bourne, [and] Sandwich, and the last thing we want to do is to harm the environment in our community, which is also your community.”


Still, major questions and disagreements have formed around how transparent Guard officials have been since the $11 million gun range project began around eight years ago. 


Bourne Select Board member Peter Meier said going forward, he’d like to see the Guard expand public outreach beyond its YouTube channel. 


“In speaking with residents around Pocasset and Cataumet, they’re like, ‘If we had a social media platform where we could have communication with military personnel, then maybe we’d be more comfortable that our questions are being answered.’”


Others echoed that request, asking to be informed early and often about future projects.   


Base officials are now waiting for approval by the state Environmental Management Commission before they can move forward with construction on the project. 


Many environmentalists have called on the state to challenge the Guard’s finding that the project would have no significant environmental impacts. They’re now asking for a full Environmental Impact Statement, which could elicit many more public meetings and delay the proposal for up to three years.