Thursday, August 28, 2008
Army’s Impossible Timeline Tells the Real Story
About 200 Middletown residents gathered in the auditorium at Mercy High School last night to hear the Army Corps of Engineers’ “revised” project schedule for the proposed Army Reserve Training Center. State Representative Ray Kalinowski moderated the meeting, pausing at the beginning to recognize the local, state and federal elected officials represented in the audience. Mayor Guiliano, State Representatives Gail Hamm and Joe Serra, and State Senator Paul Doyle were present, as were representatives from Senators Lieberman and Dodd and Congresswoman DeLauro’s offices.
David Dale (Deputy District Engineer, Louisville District, Army Corps of Engineers) presided over the Army’s power point presentation. This time it was slightly different from Colonel Landry’s “I-wear-the-uniform-for-the-nation” pitch we heard last week: the proposed Army Reserve Training Center will now look and feel like a corporate training facility, and while the “open and collaborative site identification process” has begun anew, possible sites have to be identified by September 7th, screened by September 17th, and publicly commented on by September 29th. The Site Identification Report will convene on October 1st, the list of viable sites are to be forwarded for NEPA review and Engineering Analysis by October 30th, and Right of Entry permits for environmental studies will be sought by November 7th.
Perhaps Mr. Dale’s soft Kentucky accent was supposed to lull us fast talking Yankees into submission (and I’m from Chicago originally, so I’m not even a real Yankee). Maybe because he sounded so genteel when he said, “we want to make sure we’re listening…that we get your input,” those in attendance were supposed to believe that public comment would actually influence a process that seems to have left the barn a long time ago. But, few were fooled, and it was a long night of tough questions with even fewer answers to suggest there is anything new to the process we’ve heard explained about 6 times now.
DON’T CALL IT AN ARMY BASE…
No longer comparing the proposed facility to Wesleyan (that happened at the July 31st press conference), the new proposed facility is smaller now because of Governor Rell’s decision to leave the 250th Engineering Company in New London. Repeatedly referred to as a “corporate training facility,” the proposed Reserve Training Center should now sit on about 25 acres, and ALL possible sites are supposedly again up for consideration. The peak personnel usage is about 665 reservists on a given weekend, with 70 full time personnel each work day during the week. The Army’s initial screening criterion for possible sites is as follows:
o Is the site in Middletown? (more on this in a minute)
o Is it available for purchase?
o Does is meet the size requirement of about 25 acres?
The new “open and collaborative site identification process” simply means that:
1. The public can suggest possible sites until September 7th
2. The Mayor has appointed a commission of community activists to screen possible sites and provide feedback to the Army [these individuals are Councilmen Klattenberg and Pessina, Arline Rich and Stephen Devoto (Westfield), Hugh Cox and Ralph Wilson (Maromas), and Nancy Kiniry (Conservation Commission)]. The non-Federal stakeholders liaison to the Army is Councilman Klattenberg.
3. There will be a city observer who participates in the environmental assessment of the Boardman Lane property when the Army looks for box turtles and sedge grass.
Mr. Dale was also careful to say several times that the Army would follow all NEPA requirements, that it would incorporate the requirements of the Clean Water Act even though it wouldn’t actually apply for a local permit under sections 404 and 401 (the Attorney General’s concern), and that if the Army doesn’t stick to its schedule, the entire project could be cancelled.
Concerned residents asked questions for a full two hours after the Army’s 20 minute presentation. The major question still centered on the Army’s interpretation of the BRAC requirement to build in Middletown; while Mr. Dale conceded that there are regional differences in the BRAC language, the Army’s legal opinion is a “one-size-fits-all” approach. The Army’s specific legal opinion WILL NOT be shared with the public, even under Attorney General Blumenthal’s Freedom of Information Act request, and Mayor Guiliano commented that it will take an act of Congress to get the Army to change its opinion, so Middletown might as well just accept that the base HAS to be in our town.
Representative Kalinowki observed that the Army’s schedule is extremely aggressive, and he wondered how “locked in” the Army is to that schedule. Mr. Dale’s response was that it depends on how much of a possible delay and for what reason. Basically, the Army COE has to demonstrate that it has a plan that gets a reserve center, no wait, a corporate training facility built by March 2011 (but they really have until September 2011).
When asked if brownfields will be considered as possible sites, Mr. Dale said that they can be considered, but that brownfields represent a challenge to the budget and the timeline. Specifically, it takes time and money to clean up a brownfield, and both of those items will come out of the allotted budget and timeframe for the entire project. Mr. Dale’s conclusion? “I wouldn’t say it’s a priority [to build on a brownfield], but it’s a great solution set.” He also commented that the purpose of BRAC was not to clean up brownfields.
Mr. Dale was asked point blank if the Army COE would be bound by the Inland Wetlands Commission. His answer: “we’re going to comply with the Clean Water Act, but will we be bound by Inland Wetlands? No.”
Stanley Welch, representing Congresswoman Delauro (who’s in Denver with all our other Democratic elected State Officials), jumped up to comment that the Congresswoman has specifically asked the Army to address the BRAC interpretation issue as well as the permitting issues (Clean Water Act, Inland Wetlands, etc.), but that she hasn’t received any answers to her questions yet. State Senator Doyle commented that the Inland Wetlands Commission is a state function that has been delegated to the municipal level, but that Attorney General Blumenthal’s position specifically requires the COE to respect and abide by these regulations. Mr. Dale’s reply: “We’ll deal with your issues in a collaborative manner.”
Arnold Dalene, a resident from Old Farms East, commented that the paramount issue IS the legal interpretation of the BRAC language: for the environmental assessments of the Boardman Lane property to march ahead on a potentially flawed assumption (that the base must be in Middletown) and on such an aggressive schedule, the only outcome can be a bad product. Mr. Dalene then asked specifically for a meeting to occur by next week between the Army and relevant elected officials to determine once and for all the correct interpretation of the BRAC language. Mr. Dale’s reply: “Our schedule is aggressive, but not tight. We don’t want to short circuit the process and have a bad product at the end.”
Another resident, Virginia (I didn’t catch her last name), told Mr. Dale that he had “a bad attitude – it’s your way or the highway.” She told Dale that it seems like the Army does what it wants to do, when it wants to do it (loud applause from the crowd), and she asked if the residents “really mean anything to you [the Army]?” She went on to state: “we’re paying for this thing that we don’t want – do you get that?” Dale could only reply, “yes, ma’am.”
Cathy Branch Stebbins, a Westfield resident, told Dale that Middletown’s perception of the Army is an entity that takes land, contaminates it, then walks away (referring to the Mile Lane property). She commented that it seems like the same process is happening again, on top of the fact that Middletown already has an unfair tax burden: “If you’re going to railroad your schedule on this community and have us feel warm and fuzzy about it, that’s not likely.” Stebbins then asked Dale and the Army to “be the heroes we think you are,” and add value to the community by picking a site that worked for everyone, and/or by building in a location that could also serve as a community center for a town that can’t afford to build its own.
A letter was read from a CT reservist who couldn’t attend the meeting because of her duty schedule: she would love to drill in Middletown rather than drive 100+ miles to her drill location. She also spoke of “life-saving training” that reservists need, and how unfair of the community to take a NIMBY approach. Another individual spoke up for the sanctity of due process: the Boardman Lane site is private property and no one can tell the owner he can’t sell to whomever he wishes for whatever purpose. Because the property is zoned industrial, there is nothing anyone should be able to do to prevent the sale from going through and the base being built.
The Eye’s own Ed McKeon commented that this isn’t a NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue, nor is there any question about Middletown’s support for our troops. He stated that there IS much interest for a final determination of the BRAC requirement, and he asked the audience if anyone was representing the Governor’s office. He wondered where the Governor is, and why she would reduce the facility size (effectively requiring the search process to start over) but then not get involved to help direct the search.
I, as a veteran myself, asked to watch the flag waving: it’s not the fault of Middletown residents that the Army COE has a tight schedule, nor should we be made to feel guilty that the state has chosen to let reserve units reside in aging facilities. The timeline issues are the Army’s problem with Congress and the BRAC legislation, and the town should not have to suffer a rushed decision making process to meet an arbitrary deadline. I also asked specifically IF Boardman Lane ends up as the final site, and IF there is still extensive blasting to construct the facility, will the Army pay for pre-blast inspections on the 100+ homes within 2000’ of the blast site? The answer was yes. I also referenced Fort Detrick, MD’s issues with trichloroethylene (TCE), a metal degreaser for engine parts, getting into wells outside the base, and asked if the wells on Boardman Lane and vicinity were in danger of being similarly contaminated. Mr. Dale responded that it isn’t the Army’s policy to contaminate anything, and that there are specific containment systems in place to prevent such occurrences. I asked why he would even consider a site that is Middletown’s 5th most important wetlands if there is even a risk of contamination, and he repeated that it isn’t the Army’s intent to contaminate anything.
Katchen Coley, one of Middletown’s leading environmentalists, asked if the Army will work closely with the State to accommodate Inland Wetlands requirements, and she also asked what construction standards the Army will use to build the reserve center (will the best of new construction standards be used, will pervious materials be used to pave, etc.?) Mr. Dale replied that this will be a LEED Silver project (a rating designation addressing six major areas — sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and the innovation and design process. Beginning in fiscal 2008, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required all vertical construction projects with climate-controlled facilities to achieve a LEED-New Construction Silver rating.)
Catherine Johnson commented that “we’re the United States of America, and we can do things now,” as she told Dale he should want to make this project “disappear” given the objections he’s encountered thus far. She talked about ways to reduce the effective footprint of the facility, and she wondered out loud why the mayor hadn’t included anyone with construction experience on the town’s new site selection commission.
Bill Dougherty, a Bell Street resident, asked WHEN the Army’s legal opinion was rendered, and why it conflicts with the November 2006 Army letter to the city that inquired after land in Middletown OR within 20 driving miles. Mr. Dale replied that the November 2006 letter had been a mistake: that approach is normally taken for “regular” reserve centers, not BRAC mandated facilities. Mr. Dougherty also asked when the Army’s last contact with P&W officials was, stating that he had new information that P&W was willing to reopen discussions regarding the nature of the contamination on the property.
Councilman Pessina asked the Army to sit with the Governor’s office to discuss the funds available for brownfield cleanup. Councilman Roberts suggested the Pratt & Whitney site (as a follow on to the reminder that there are state funds available for brownfield clean up purposes), and also asked about the Mile Lane site. He asked if the Army had to clean up that site before it was returned to the town (Dale’s answer was yes), and if so, why those funds couldn’t be used to just clean up the site for re-use as the new Army Reserve Base…no…corporate training facility. Mr. Dale commented that all sites are again possibilities (if they meet the 3 initial criteria), and that Mile Lane will certainly be looked at again.
At that point, more than 2 hours of questioning and bantering back and forth had happened, and everyone looked, frankly, well, exhausted. Then again, that’s normally what happens when 2 parties are talking past each other and not TOO each other. There wasn’t anything new the Army COE told us, other than the fact that there’s very little time left for “public comment.” At one point, the program manager for the environmental assessments was discussing the upcoming investigations his team would be conducting, and his rather casual comments, when added together, were the most telling of the evening:
o “We always take into consideration state-listed species of concern”
o “It’s a point of discussion we’re [the Army] going to have to have…if the box turtle and sedge are found on the property, does that mean the property automatically falls off the list of possible locations? We’re going to have to discuss that.”
o “The box turtle is quite ubiquitous in the Northeast. (meaning existing or being everywhere at the same time : constantly encountered) It’s a state species of concern because it’s at the northern end of its range up here. That’s not the same thing as being on the federal endangered species list.”
o “Yes, environmental studies are going forth for the Boardman Lane property because we have to get those done before winter. No, there are no other environmental studies happening on any other property because we don’t know what the other viable properties are yet.”
So, what can you Yankees conclude? (remember I’m not a real one…I’m just a groupie) It sounds good to say that the site selection process has started over, and you can even suggest sites to Middletown’s Bill Warner (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Army’s Todd Hornback (Todd.email@example.com). But Boardman Lane is still the Army’s primary object of interest, even though the property is 88 acres when the Army only needs 25. There’s a lovely commission now, with really, really, really, really excellent people on it (Catherine Johnson’s assessment), but if they tell the Army it’s Mile Lane or the P&W site or nothing, and the Army doesn’t like either choice, what happens then?
And for the last time…this isn’t about NIMBY, it isn’t about a private person selling property to a private person and that whole process being subject to the town’s planning and zoning, Inland Wetlands control and tax process, and it has NOTHING to do with Middletown’s gratitude towards citizen-soldiers or any other vaguely sounding patriotic theme. This is about the stewardship of finite resources: our tax dollars, pristine open space, and the relationships that govern our everyday lives. You and I are the customer in this relationship: Middletown is OUR town, OUR tax dollars will pay for this reserve center, and we have a responsibility to proceed in a way that protects and preserves OUR community as we prefer it to be. Why would we prefer to call this Army Reserve center a corporate training center when it is clearly not that? It will become FEDERAL property, it won’t support Middletown’s tax base, and in 10 years, it could become a live fire training facility if that’s what the Army wanted it to be.
So let’s just tell the truth here. The Army can’t possibly conduct a brand new search in the short time it has given itself. That the investigations of the Boardman Lane property continue on outside the new search process is further proof of this fact. That the previous site selection process excluded some site options because the Natural Diversity Data Base (NDDB) listed species of concern, but then settled on Boardman Lane DESPITE the presence of similar issues is also proof that the Army only focuses on what makes a convenient argument at the moment.
Something has to give here: I can only hope it’s not us caving to the Army’s blustering about our citizen-soldiers not getting their modern training facility. The Army’s construction schedule can’t be more important than a careful and deliberate selection process that makes the best choice possible rather than the easiest choice possible. Madame Governor: you thought you were being helpful by giving the Army more choices, and maybe that will turn out to be the case. We’ll know on October 30th when the Army forwards its site list, but by then, it will be way too late to “discover” the Army really didn’t go back to the beginning after all.