On Monday, nearly 50 people gathered— wearing face masks and mostly maintaining social distance— outside Forestdale School in Sandwich, where they called for additional vetting of the project and more public hearings. They gathered at the school because if the machine gun range is built, the elementary students could be able to hear gunfire from their campus.
“You know, 30 years from now it’s going to be too late if our water supply is contaminated, if we have to resort to plastic water bottles, if there are climate change implications, if we lose habitat and animals,” said Jacob Swenson, a college student from Sandwich, who attended the rally. “For me all of those issues are very core and central to Cape Cod.”
The Guard has laid out plans to monitor noise levels and mitigate environmental impacts. For example, four acres of rare species habitat would be preserved for every acre affected. Plus, base officials said they’re expanding the Crane Wildlife Management Area just south of the base through a direct land transfer of 260 acres.
But many residents say their criticisms are about transparency.
“We have this past history of almost 100 years of contamination and a lack of transparency, so it’s really hard to be thinking that these leaders are credible at this point, sadly,” said Keith Lewison, organizer and chair of Sierra Club Cape Cod. In the last 20 years, the Guard has spent around $1.2 billion cleaning up soil and groundwater contamination from past military activity on the base.
“They’ve already been into this for eight years and they just let us know now. We had a month to respond,” agreed Harwich resident Mary Ann Jones. The Guard opened up a public comment period on August 7. “The whole thing is just like a done deal as far as they’re concerned and we can’t let that happen.”
The Guard defends its process; in a newly released informational video, Colonel Matthew Porter said the Guard informed Upper Cape town officials at annual meetings and hosted several events that were open to the public. Officials have also said the range is necessary to get soldiers the small arms training they need in a timely manner.
Still, many activists calling for the Guard to produce a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which could elicit many more public meetings and delay the proposal for up to three years.
The state’s Environmental Management Commission, which oversees the project, plans to host public meetings this fall, but Monday’s organizers said they’re already trying to schedule additional rallies to make sure they’re seen and heard.