Thursday, December 17, 2009

Environmental lessons from Camp Lejeune

Never in a million years would I have imagined that my longstanding Sports Illustrated subscription would yield something relevant to NOPE.

Other dinosaurs that still get the print version of SI might have also noticed the attached advertisement from the U.S. Marine Corps on page 83 of the December 14 issue, imploring anyone that "lived or worked at Camp Lejeune before 1987" to call to see whether they "may have been exposed to contaminated drinking water." Hmm...

This piqued my interest, so I googled "Camp Lejeune" and "water" and came up with a treasurer trove of stories that show that as many as 1 million ex-Marines and their families drank toxic wellwater at Lejeune and may be stricken with all sorts of illnesses (or birth defects) as a result of ingesting TCE and PCE, two severely toxic chemicals. (Not surprisingly, Navy leadership is taking the high road by battling the federal agency overseeing toxic substances over funding a mortality study at Lejeune, according to AP).

Take what you will from this anecdote, but for those - including a particular local veterans group - that wonder why we have an ax to grind with the Department of Navy over proposed civilian housing at NWS Earle, and why we do not buy the Navy's argument against making the issue go away, keep in mind the 29 EPA Superfund sites at Earle and their proximity to Laurelwood housing.

Two decades after it happened we now have the DoN/Marines hinting that, yeah, maybe there was something wrong with the water that servicemembers and their families were drinking at Lejeune. Granted, any prospective Laurelwood tenants will be drinking public water(not wellwater), but, still, the argument here is that, environmentally, who really knows what's going on at a military base where the job is inherently dangerous?

Will it take 10-20-30 years to find out that military dependents at Laurelwood in the 1990s and 2000s (and subsequently civilian tenants from 2010-2040) are in bad health or birthing kids with defects as a result of airborne or some kind of other exposure to toxic chemicals at the base? (NOPE is in the process of working on the environmental case at Earle).

I, for one, would not want to throw ANYONE, let alone a U.S. veteran who "needs a place to live" (as Neptune Housing Authority espouses), to a dangerous housing situation, merely because the Navy has some vacant, underutilized housing within its Earle base...and because it says "yeah, we can handle the security obligation." Such a notion is utterly shortsighted and blind to the environmental hazards of the military weapons business.

Bill Holobowski, NOPE Chairman

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Postcard and Facebook reminders

NOPE would like to mail a second big batch of four-color postcards before the Christmas holiday, so please begin gathering and submitting signed postcards either to the town halls of Tinton Falls and Colts Neck, or to your primary NOPE contacts. The cards already have pre-printed addresses, too, if you care to mail them on your own.

You have until January 3, 2010, to collect the WHITE POSTCARDS, which we will bring to Trenton when lobbying for passage of S3017 (see earlier blogs on this bill).

Otherwise, if anyone is interested, we have set up a Facebook page for NOPE, though we're not quite sure yet whether it is worth our while to spend much time on this front. Still, it is worth an exploratory effort to see whether this will expand our already broad supporter base.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How privatized housing (PPVs) essentially works

In assessing how to refute one group's admirable, yet ill-conceived suggestion to convert the Laurelwood units at Earle to veterans housing, and to give our supporters a "Cliff's Notes" view of what Privatization in NOPE stands for, one must note the structure of our military Public-Private Ventures (PPV) and that the military has no real ownership in the houses it "privatizes", as evidenced in this 2005 NAVFAC PowerPoint.

Were it as simple as the Department of Navy owning the homes and making the call on who ultimately would live at Laurelwood, then NOPE might not have a case. However, in a PPV, the U.S. Military cedes control of the housing (i.e. selection of renters, rental rates, etc.) to an outside, generally obscure, Limited Liability Corporation majority partner (Laurelwood Homes, LLC, in our case at NWS Earle).

The deal is simple...the military gets the homes it needs for its enlisted personnel for a finite period ("in-lease") and at almost no upfront cost, and then gives the developer full control over how the "out-lease" (civilian-use phase in the case of Laurelwood) is executed.

Rather than holding the surrounding communities, elected officials or NOPE responsible for collective and rational objections to civilian housing at Earle and unimpeded civilian access to a Naval weapons depot, the proponents of veterans housing should direct their questions and attention to those responsible for PPV oversight and hone in on Fort Monmouth, which is scheduled for closure in 2012 and, in NOPE's view, far better-suited to veterans' needs (i.e. medical facilities, housing, open space, etc.). That is a far more viable, safer and attainable solution to veterans' housing needs than some willy-nilly landgrab at Weapons Station Earle.