Friday, August 14, 2009

APP: Freeholders reject plan to house veterans at Earle

The Monmouth County Freeholders at yesterday's meeting rejected a special interest group's request to rent the Laurelwood housing units at Earle for "disabled and senior citizen veterans" once the Navy turns the houses over to the developer next year - good news for Neighbors Opposed to Privatization at Earle.

The namesake "Accettola Plan" put together by a Colts Neck resident supposedly with a background in public housing and endorsed by the Neptune Housing Authority (NHA), while noble, was extremely thin on details and disorganized when presented in Tinton Falls in January. NOPE's - and presumably the Freeholders' - opposition to this plan has nothing to do with slighting veterans or whomever else could end up renting the 300 homes on an active weapons base. The type of tenant is irrelevant to NOPE.

The point is that no civilian should ever gain access to the base or Laurelwood housing. To be sure, NOPE's leadership includes a prominent, high-ranking military retiree and other war veterans who view the plan as ill-hatched. Yes, we recognize the Navy's circular, semantical argument in its EIS that fencing off the houses and its own, new road would separate them from the active parts of NWS Earle, but the point remains that if any civilian housing plan comes to fruition, that the Laurelwood residents, their guests and the general public would be able to drive thru the heart of the Earle Mainside base thru 2040 - not a wise plan in post-9/11 world. The Accettola Plan and NHA fail to recognize this and continually tugs on peoples' emotions to "do what's right for veterans," without grasping the magnitude or pitfalls of the Navy's plan or how Laurelwood residents too are in harm's way.

As well, NOPE recognizes the need to find affordable housing for veterans in need and has mentioned this many times in our dealings with elected federal, state and local elected officials, which makes Fort Monmouth (set for closure in 2012 and home to a hospital and other facilities that can be used by the veterans or retrofitted for their purposes) a far better option for the Accettola Plan than Earle. And as former Freeholder and current candidate John Curley was quoted as saying in yesterday's APP, "our veterans deserve better."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

NWS Earle hacker's hopes dashed

Gary McKinnon, the British man fighting extradition to the U.S. for hacking into DoD computer systems up until 2001 and disabling Weapons Station Earle's network for about a month around 9/11, was dealt an apparent setback this week when another criminal hacker with allegedly the same autistic condition (Asperger's Syndrome) was sentenced to 55 months in prison for participating in a multimillion-dollar computer fraud scheme (see story).

On the surface, the entire McKinnon case may appear to be a sidebar (i.e. "cyber" vs. "physical" terror attack) to unimpeded civilian access and housing at an active military weapons facility, and to some may seem a stretch in terms of the Navy's physical security of its own Earle base, but nonetheless raises doubt about a key component of NAVFAC's argument in the Laurelwood EIS that NWS Earle can defend itself with the physical influx of a presumed 1,000-plus civilian residents by September 2010.

If the government couldn't prevent an allegedly autistic hacker from an overseas location from disabling mission-critical computer networks, how can the civilian residents of the areas surrounding Earle's Mainside rest assured that everything will run smoothly physically once civilians have free rein of the proposed access route to the Laurelwood homes at Earle? This doubt is only compounded by the January 2009 report from the U.S. Congress's Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that NWS Earle did not follow the Navy's own quality assurance guidelines in oversight of the contractor security guards that assist in guarding Earle (Myers Investigative & Security Services, of North Carolina), not to mention that it could not provide documentation that contractor security guards had completed a background check. Think about it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Perspective on 2007 mass casualty drill

Nearly two years ago, Earle conducted what the Sept. 7, 2007 Asbury Park Press dubbed a "mass casualty drill," simulating an aftermath scenario of a chemical weapons attack involving a truck carrying chlorine gas and its intended target, an ordnance-filled military train. Clearly, we should all cross our fingers that such an indict never comes to fruition in Monmouth County, and on the other hand rest easier that the Navy prepares for even a worst-case scenario.

As a civilian, there is something extremely startling, however, about the accompanying photo of first responders dressed in glaring orange HazMat suits, carrying a victim from the scene of the drill (at the corner of West Front Street in Middletown and Normandy Road). One can only imagine the devastation of such an attack, and from such drills we can only suspect that such a preparedness drill means that Navy leaders have at least contemplated that such an attack is a potential reality in the wake of 9/11.

The thought, however, of base forces being unnecessarily distracted by an added responsibility of policing a small town of civilian residents on its base as soon as September 2010 gives NOPE extreme pause in whether Earle can be truly prepared to a) protect its neighbors from such an attack along a 14-mile government road and rail line, and b) respond adequately in the event of such a horrific disaster. Again, much of NAVFAC's study into the Laurelwood plan is filled with rhetoric about how security and Earle's mission (which is solely to provide ammunition to the fleet) will not be compromised by a presumed 1,000-plus civilian residents and unimpeded access to this strategic weapons installation. If, unlike many of us, you're willing to buy that bill of goods, then more power to you, and cross your fingers that none of the civilian tenants or civilian visitors to Earle's Mainside complex in Colts Neck between 2010 and 2040 has ill will toward the Navy or democracy in general. In the meantime, here is the APP story from Sept. 2007.
Source: Asbury Park Press
Preparedness & coordination
Law-enforcement and emergency groups attend Earle mass-casualty drill
The simulated scenario at Naval Weapons Station Earle was the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack involving a truck carrying chlorine gas and its intended target, an ordnance-filled military train.
So, early Thursday morning members of the Monmouth County Office of Emergency Management, county Prosecutor's Office, county hazardous-materials unit, State Police and state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness gathered at the corner of West Front Street and Normandy Road, the 15-mile military thoroughfare.
All were on site for Earle's mass casualty drill, an all-day exercise to assess the military base's preparedness level and its ability to successfully coordinate with the local and state emergency authorities, base spokesman Patrick Fisher said.
"This will be unfolding without a lot of people knowing (the details)," Fisher said before the drill. "Only about 15 to 20 people know the scenario."
The other base responders would have to rely on training to assess the situation quickly and effectively execute commands.
The 64-year-old naval base, which sits on more than 11,000 acres, uses Normandy Road, a restricted roadway, and adjacent railroad line to transport munitions to naval fleets at its 2.2-mile long pier in the Leonardo section of Middletown.
"Our first responders include base security, fire and rescue personnel who arrive first at the scene to assess the situation and set a safety perimeter around the area," Fisher said.
Those first responders, two Earle firemen dressed in glaring orange HazMat suits equipped with oxygen masks, found five unconscious "victims": a train crew of four men, two of whom were thrown from the train, and the truck driver.
Immediately, the assessment of the victims revealed two "deaths" — the truck driver and train conductor — one suffering from burns, another from a respiratory ailment and the last from a fractured hip, said drill coordinator Lt. Jeffrey Dennison. So-called hot zones were outlined, and a simulated barricade was set up at the intersection.
Next on site were naval medical officers who began setting up a makeshift triage area away from onlookers who, in turn, were soon evacuated 4,000 feet away from the site.
"This was a challenge to everyone, and we thought everyone received great training," Fisher said once the drill was completed. "We've identified areas that needed improving and will include them in future training."
Fisher said follow-up lessons based on what was learned through exercise will be conducted.
"Overall, it was very successful," Fisher said.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Navy: "No, that's MY sandbox and bus yard!"

One could argue that this is what Colts Neck gets for suing the Navy over its unimpeded access plan for Laurelwood housing, but in perhaps one of the cattier actions imaginable, NAVFAC Mid-Atlantic (i.e., the Department of the Navy) recently wrote to Colts Neck, denying the Township's request to continue to use the 3.4-acre tract alongside Rt. 18 that NWS Earle had conveyed a decade ago to the Township for "use as a school bus parking area, public recycling collection center, and dirt/sand storage area" (quoted from a 1999 letter to former administrator George Handzo and obtained by NOPE).

In essence, someone working for the Navy in Washington - presumably R. David Gale, the attorney cited as the contact person in the letter (attached to the right) - decided to punish the township by taking away what is otherwise a useless (to NWS Earle) strip of land where school buses are parked and where residents drop off their recyclable materials. So much for being a good neighbor. (Mr. Gale's contact info is on the letter, if you seek an explanation or clarification for yourself).

Our personal views of this sideshow notwithstanding, this letter is yet another snapshot of the uphill battle that the civilian neighbors of NWS Earle face in challenging - even through respectful and proper channels - a branch of their country's own Armed Forces, particulary when (in this case, the Navy) does not get its way without a valid challenge. The notion of putting civilians on an active weapons depot is absurd, but because the citizens of the neighboring towns have organized, spoken out by the thousands against the plan thru NOPE and gathered bipartisan political support as high as the U.S. Senate - and called the Navy's bluff, so to speak - someone in Washington is going to take away Colts Neck's bus storage yard and recycling dropoff point as a symbolic gesture. Boo hoo.

The more entrenchend you become in this issue, the more you will realize that your Navy leadership in Washington will try to do whatever it pleases at Earle (re: Laurelwood), regardless of the security, financial and environmental detriment to the surrounding communities and to the NWS Earle's mission itself. In this case, going thru with an 80s-era privatized housing contract that the Navy can contractually void, but would rather not to avoid embarassment, being candid about its true motives or to go full bore with the undetermined selfish pursuits of certain military leaders in Washington.

This letter is about more than a bus storage yard. Basically, it is another perspective of "heck with what's right for the Monmouth County communities" (namely Colts Neck and Tinton Falls) that for nearly 70 years have done nothing short of embracing the U.S. Military's presence here, being a respectful friend and neighbor and educating thousands of children of families stationed at Earle over the years. Shame on you, NAVFAC!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Anyone heard from Frank Pallone?

NOPE for the better part of its nearly 2-year existence has tried, to no avail, to engage (directly and indirectly) District 6 Congressman Frank Pallone in the Navy's civilian housing issue at NWS Earle. The Congressman, contrary to his objections to construction of the Laurelwood homes in the 1980s (see the 1987 Laurelwood EIS - if you're looking for some REALLY mundane summer beach reading), to this story from the November 29, 2000 Independent, has been relatively mum on the U.S. Navy's plan to fill 300 unoccupied homes with civilian tenants, even though parts of Earle are squarely in his district. Silence, in this case, is detrimental to NOPE's cause, and whether it is for lack of interest or a sense of futility in dealing with obstinate Navy decision makers over more than two decades in Washington, NOPE needs Congressman Pallone to be more engaged with Congressment Holt and Smith.

We would encourage Mr. Pallone's constituents who reside anywhere near Earle and all of our supporters to contact the Congressman (202-225-4671 or 732-571-1140) to encourage him to speak against the Navy plan and protect those living along Normandy Road (on which the Navy transports tons of high-powered ordnance each year) and near Earle's base in Leonardo.

In the throes of summer vacation, it is interesting to look back on the history of the Navy's actions at Earle over the past 20+ years and remind our supporters of Mr. Pallone's vehement stance against construction of the homes, as well as his objection to reports of the Navy moving ships from its fully capable Earle homeport to Norfolk, Virginia. The Navy seemed to do so without real justification, and just a few years after the Navy stressed the need to construct 300-500 new homes to house sailors on the ships homeported at Earle (yes, you guessed it...the Laurelwood homes that put us in the current mess we're facing some 22 years and $100 million+ later).

The piece from the Independent is not presented here to slam or embarrass Congressman Pallone in any way, but rather to put in perspective the clear frustrations of our elected officials and residents of the surrounding Earle communities in dealing with Navy decision-makers over the last two-plus decades.

Collectively, we cannot go silent in objecting to yet another poor decision from military leaders in Washington, and one that threatens to compromise the mission at NWS Earle and our local and national security. That includes you, Congressman Pallone.