EPA review of controversial Cape Cod machine gun range delayed

It will be the end of the year before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should complete a review of the single-source aquifer project on the proposed range of general-purpose machine guns for Seal Base Cape Cod.

It’s extended from an expected completion date of this spring, and EPA officials say part of the delay is pending more documentation.

In August 2021, EPA Region 1 notified the Massachusetts Army National Guard (MAARNG) and the Department of Defense that it would conduct a review of the proposed 11.5 million machine gun lineup. dollars to assess whether the project posed a “significant risk to public health,” according to a press release.

Targets and berm at the Sierra Range on Joint Base Cape Cod.  The Federal Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing the Massachusetts National Guard's proposal to build a new line of general-purpose machine guns on the base.

Since then, the EPA has reviewed National Guard technical documents, including project plans, groundwater surveys, and draft operations monitoring and management plans. At this point, the EPA said in a statement that the agency has not received all the information from the National Guard it needs to conduct a full review.

“We had specific questions for MAARNG throughout this process. In response to our requests, MAARNG sent additional plans and documents,” the EPA statement said. “From our perspective, these documents are new documents that require our review and analysis. We will continue to work with MAARNG to obtain the information we need and will conduct a thorough review before issuing a draft decision.”

It’s important to note, said Emily Bender of US EPA New England, that some of the documents the EPA needs to review were being drafted by the National Guard, which resulted in a slightly longer review time. long.

“EPA originally planned to complete the review of Project SSA in the spring of 2022, with the understanding that this could be extended depending on the wealth of information that needs to be evaluated,” Bender said in the statement.

“The EPA now expects to conclude its review and issue a Proposed Decision by the end of the calendar year. At that time, the EPA will issue a Proposed Decision as to whether the line of machine guns proposed multi-purpose plant has the potential to contaminate the single-source aquifer in such a way as to create a significant public health hazard.”

Bender said the EPA will also open a 30-day public comment period with an accompanying filing, and hold a public hearing.

“A fairly thorough review”

From the perspective of Keith Driscoll, director of Massachusetts National Guard of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), there was never any expectation of a specific timeline for the completion of the review. Although he said his team has never been the subject of a single-source aquifer project review, they have complied with several rounds of data requests and comments from the EPA since November. and continue to compile specific information, such as Geographic Information System maps, that are needed for the review.

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“It’s going to be a pretty thorough review,” he said. “We’re seeing that they (the EPA) are getting more specific, so it takes time for us to accumulate a lot more information to answer those questions and comments from the EPA.”

Col. Matthew Porter, installation commander of the Army National Guard training site at Camp Edwardsstated that the extension of time is not based on new findings, but rather on the compilation of information for the completion of the report.

“They need to finalize the report. It’s kind of where time starts to turn, so to speak,” Porter said. “They originally said spring, but that was just an estimate based on what they thought they were going to ask for.”

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Porter said he hopes the extension of the deadline will contribute to transparency between the National Guard and the community regarding plans for the machine gun lineup.

“There have been a lot of questions, or at least accusations, about transparency with the National Guard,” he said. “What this (review) does is provide what the public is looking for – that is, a nice consolidated study of what already exists.”

Lou Cerrone of Sandwich holds a sign saying

Once the review is finalized, Porter said, he’s sure the findings will support a 2015 EPA decision document, which he says states small arms ranges do not contaminate existing aquifers nearby. of the proposed site.

The National Guard also conducted an environmental assessment, which was released in 2020, Porter said, which concluded the eight-channel machine gun line would have no significant impact on area aquifers and no potential risk to the environment. public drinking water.

Reviewers aren’t surprised by the expansion

Andrew Gottlieb, Executive Director of the Association to preserve Cape Codcalls the existing public record grossly inadequate and states that it is not surprising that the EPA needs more time to assess the many issues surrounding the proposed line of machine guns.

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“Obviously they (EPA) don’t have all the information they need,” he said. “I guess part of that delay is to give the guard the time he thinks he needs to fill in critical information gaps in a desperate attempt to salvage this bad idea.”

In September 2020, the Association to Preserve Cape Cod filed a letter of comment to Driscoll and the National Guard and called for the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed project to carefully consider the impacts that the range of machine guns would have on the environment. The range would require about 199 acres of ground disturbance, including 170.5 acres of forest area that would be clearcut, Gottlieb said.

The machine gun range, Gottlieb said in a recent Times column, would also be built in the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve – which was specifically designed to protect the Sagamore Lens, the Upper Cape’s only aquifer. and medium.

“The reserve was created in 2002 after past military activities severely polluted groundwater,” he said. “Contamination of groundwater at Joint Base Cape Cod has cost ratepayers over $1 billion.”

Ella Sampou, from Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborativesupports the extension and said it will allow the EPA to review the project at a deeper level.

“Initially, the environmental community didn’t feel this project had received proper scrutiny,” she said. “With more time, we will know that the EPA has done its due diligence and Cape Codders will have more time to inquire and comment on this project.”

US Senators from Massachusetts Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren and US Representative William Keating, in a joint statement this week, praised the EPA for its decision to extend the review deadline.

“(The) EPA Region 1 announcement further demonstrates the agency’s continued commitment to conduct a comprehensive single-source aquifer review of the proposed machine gun range project at Camp Edwards on Joint Base Cape Cod.” , they said in a press release. “We commend the EPA for extending its timeline to review the dangers this proposed line of firearms could pose to public health, public safety, and our public lands.”

Sampou hopes the review will also capture any indication of possible risk or harm the range of machine guns could have on Cape Town’s fragile ecosystem and on the public.

“Unless our government agencies and regulators can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this project will cause no harm, I would ask them to proceed with the utmost caution,” she said.

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