Friday, September 18, 2009

Good news from the Menendez office

Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg have co-signed a letter to the top-ranking Senate and House Armed Services committee "conferees" (John McCain among them), urging inclusion of Congressman Chris Smith's amendment (already approved in the House) to F2010 defense spending legislation that would require the GAO to study the security and financial ramifications to all stakeholders of proposed Laurelwood civilian housing at NWS Earle.

This is good news to NOPE. The need for the letter is a technical matter as it relates to D.C. politics, but nonetheless validates the merits of NOPE's argument that the Laurelwood EIS put forth by Navy factfinders is utterly flawed, short on facts, and misleading to federal, state and local agencies required to comment on the "environmental impact statement."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Two New Contacts in the Blogosphere

NOPE has reached out to one member of the blogosphere - Michael Schindler, a Navy veteran and contributor to The Washington Times, as well as the Founder of Operation Military Family - in hopes that he will share our story with his readers.

Mr. Schindler's blog, The Military Wire (link embedded), discusses and raises "public awareness on issues that affect our service members and their families," and NOPE sees (among the slew of obvious pitfalls of civilians living on an active weapons base) the Laurelwood housing issue as a major compromise of the quality of life of the active service members living in other housing (i.e. Stark Road) at Weapons Station Earle, not to mention a significant compromise of base security and a distraction to Earle's singular mission to provide ammunition to the U.S. fleet (i.e. MPs pulling cars over for speeding on the proposed "Alternative #4" entry road to Laurelwood or settling domestic disputes at a Laurelwood home, rather than focusing on guarding weapons shipments from the bayfront installation to the Main Base in Colts Neck).

We also have heard from Amy Fankhauser of Howell TRUTH, a grassroots school-budget advocacy group that apparently has been keeping tabs on our case and encouraging greater resident participation in Howell (NJ) BOE matters in light of budget contraints that prompted the district to close Southard School. For some time we have tried to engage Howell's (a member of the Freehold Regional school district) elected leaders (and all elected township officials throughout Monmouth County) in support of our cause, and perhaps the contact with Howell TRUTH and other grassroots groups will prove the catalyst to such support.

We'll keep you posted on the results of this outreach.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Quick Update on our EPA challenge

NOPE's own Charles Basile of Colts Neck, whose firm, the Wall Street Group (of Jersey City), has graciously donated many of the printed materials distributed by us since inception, received a letter from EPA Region 2 chief John Filippelli that amounted to an implicit copout that a) the EPA can only take the Navy at its word that breaching the Laurelwood contract is not a "reasonable alternative" to the "No Build Alternative" we have long espoused, and b) yes, the Navy should have released its EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) much earlier than it did in order to give the EPA more time to study environmental alternatives to opening up the Laurelwood houses on the base to civilian occupants. In our view, these answers are unacceptable from an agency whose presumed mission is environmental protection. (Breaching an EPA Superfund site in addition to displacing wetlands and wreaking environmental havoc, as the Navy will do to obligate the civilian out-lease portion of the Laurelwood contract, seems to fit this description).

Fulton Wilcox, who along with Diana Piotrowski has spearheaded our EPA case, is organizing NOPE's response, which NOPE will share here once finished, and in the meantime we will continue to press environmental officials on the Navy's misleading "purpose and need."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

1988 Department of Navy letter raises questions about original motive to extend the Laurelwood housing contract by 20 years

We highly recommend that anyone seeking documentation pertaining either to the Laurelwood housing situation at Weapons Station Earle or any other endeavor requiring extensive research of federal documents invoke the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). With experience as our guide, the coordinators of this program are relentless in their pursuit of fulfilling citizens' information requests - a tremendous service to U.S. taxpayers.

NOPE's earliest request yielded a treasure trove of documents, namely the actual contract and more than 70 supplement agreements between the U.S. Navy and its developer (email us if you would like a copy), now called Laurelwood Homes LLC. With such access, we were able to discover that the Navy is bad when it comes to the bargaining table, seemingly giving up its right in 2002 to invoke federal National Emergency rules in order to nullify the Laurelwood housing contract at no cost - all so a private developer could refinance the mortgage and rake in over $200 million in rents for 52 years when all is said and done. We also learned from these documents that, unbeknownst to the public - as should have been disclosed in NAVFAC's "Environmental Impact Statement" (EIS) on the Laurelwood civilian housing plan - that U.S. taxpayers might be on the hook for another $20 million if Laurelwood cannot find tenants for the 300 homes by September 2010. Both sides say NOPE has misinterpreted the language of "Supplement Lease No. 43", but our attorneys beg to differ.

Yesterday, another document showed up in our chairman's mailbox - an understated two-sentence letter (attached) signed by then-Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Shipbuilding and Logistics) Keith E. Eastin in 1988. Apparently, Mr. Eastin, who remains involved in installations management with the U.S. Army, ruled that adding 20 years to the lease (and implicitly signing off on civilian housing at Earle thru 2040) was a good idea to "promote the national defense."

NOPE's legal team will follow up on this letter and perhaps track down Mr. Eastin for further details on the history of the Laurelwood contract and why it was essential for the Navy to open up Weapons Station Earle to civilian occupants for 30 years, rather than ending the privatized Laurelwood housing contract as soon as 2020 (as the attached letter would indicate).

Stay tuned for more details. NOPE remains baffled about how civilian housing on an active weapons facility already thin on security personnel promotes the national defense.

Monday, September 14, 2009

One Poet's Reflections Eight Years After 9/11

Today's post is somewhat outside the scope of our typical mission to inform NOPE supporters and the general public about the Laurelwood housing situation at Weapons Station Earle, but a Middletown-based blogger poet by the pseudonym "findingmyroom" eloquently encapsulates thoughts and emotions of so many of us living outside NYC and how the 9-11 terror attacks turned our attention to Weapons Station Earle as a target.

"Never did anyone think they (the Twin Towers) would fall at the whim of a group of fanatics with box cutters on planes," as written by findingmyroom, is especially striking, considering that some of us in NOPE either were in NYC that morning or worked at Fort Monmouth or Earle, which clamped down on security in the aftermath and continues to heighten security measures to get on the base - precisely why the U.S. Navy's decision to open an unimpeded civilian access route to the Laurelwood housing complex is all the more baffling. We still have yet to hear a logical reason (i.e., the Laurelwood EIS was utterly incomplete, lacking in relevant security and financial impact assessments) for cutting a hole in the security fencing a few hundred yards south of the main gate on Rt. 34 of a massive military weapons installation; obligating an 80s-era privatized housing contract is not a sufficient reason to compromise national and regional security.

Gone are the days of the community softball leagues at Earle's ballfields and other feel-good community events on the base, replaced by justifiable concerns among citizens well beyond the list of our thousands of supporters...not so much about what the present security force at Earle is doing, but about the greater potential for domestic terrorism and NWS Earle as a potential target in the wake of 9/11.