Thursday, October 29, 2009

Congressman Smith: President Signs Earle Amendment Into Law

According to this press release issued Wednesday by Congressman Chris Smith's office, President Obama signed into law Mr. Smith's legislation "to require a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the U.S. Navy’s controversial proposal to open the Laurelwood military housing complex on Naval Weapons Station Earle, the largest munitions depot on the East Coast, to the general public."

NOPE again appreciates the years of effort Congressman Smith has put into this issue, well before our group's existence, and wholeheartedly agrees with Mr. Smith's assertion that "making a highly secure military weapons depot accessible to anyone with a month and a half’s rent is a bad idea."

In addition, we anticipate that the GAO's discovery will not only expose the Department of Navy's stubborn and flawed contention that, by contract, it must open the Laurelwood housing to civilians by September 2010, but also will shed light on a number of significant pieces of information that NAVFAC failed to discuss to the U.S. taxpayer in its "Environmental Impact Statement" (EIS) on Laurelwood - namely regarding Supplemental Lease Agreement 43.

It is our understanding that this agreement, obtained earlier this year by NOPE thru the Freedom of Information Act, and signed in August 2002 as part of Laurelwood's refinancing of the mortgage, compounds what was a bad contract from the get-go in the 1980s. And, contrary to the Department of Navy's contention in the EIS that "No Build" (i.e. do not build the Laurelwood road, do not open the houses to civilians) is not an option, No. 43 suggests the lease automatically goes to buyout and teardown phase if the DoN does not provide Laurelwood access to pave the road and upgrade the homes at the end of the "in-lease" (i.e. military's occupation of the homes), which is April 30, 2010.

Here's the kicker. By agreeing to this supplement, S.A. 43 suggests that "the Government" (as referred to in the document), less than one year after 9-11, not only signed away its contractual right to use National Emergency Termination clauses to void the lease, but also appears to obligate the U.S. taxpayer to an additional $20 million+ of rent payments to Laurelwood in the event that certain civilian occupancy levels are not met. NOW we see why the Navy was steadfast in telling us during face-to-face meetings that it would not invoke the termination clause (rather than its excuse at the time that it didn't want to be perceived as a bad business partner to federal government contractors.)

None of us in NOPE is an expert at privatized military housing contracts, but we are hopeful that the GAO report will shed light on important financial data points and security analysis that clearly was lacking in the Department of Navy's (NAVFAC) final EIS, and that the DoN will use this opportunity to finally approach Laurelwood's owner at the bargaining table on a settlement that not only restores order to NWS Earle, but is the right thing to do for surrounding communities and the folks behind Earle's lines who put their lives on the line for our country.

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