Wednesday, December 8, 2010

APP editorial applauds the Laurelwood buyout

The Asbury Park Press ran an editorial Tuesday, supporting the Department of Navy's announcement last week of the buyout and impending tear-down of the 300-unit Laurelwood housing complex at NWS Earle. The editorial echoes what NOPE has argued publicly the last three years and highlights that, indeed, Earle's "neighbors can breathe a little easier." Once the demolition is complete, the issue will be put to bed.

A key point, however, that critics of the buyout (and the media at large) keep missing is that the Department irresponsibly threw away its ace in the hole in 2002 and endangered itself and our national defense. This is not to pick a fight, but to present the facts, as NOPE has done since late 2007.

The original Laurelwood pact with builder Dick Fischer Developments (the predecessor to Laurelwood Homes, LLC) in 1988 included provisions whereby the Navy could terminate the agreement in the event of any National Emergency (i.e. 9-11), presumably at no cost to the government and taxpayers. However, there was clear language showing the Navy surrendered the termination clause in a controversial supplement (No. 43) to the original lease. Of course, the Laurelwood Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS (meant to be, but clearly not, an honest public study of the topic, presented by Naval Facilities Engineering Command), conveniently did not mention this or the more than 60 subsequent supplements to the lease.

NOPE argued from its beginning that the Navy should have invoked this termination clause -- justifiable in the wake of 9-11 and the strategic significance of one of our military's largest munitions storage bases and the deep-water ports accessible from the base opposite Sandy Hook, but Navy "suits" in Washington steadfastly argued the Department would not invoke the clause for fear of being perceived a "bad business partner" to developers and its endeavors for needed military housing. Conversely, we argued that any builder willingly assumed risk of revocation by taking on what are otherwise handsomely profitable housing contracts.

Interesting, we thought. So, using the Freedom of Information Act, we uncovered documents that gave the real reason the Department would not void the deal: shockingly, within a year of 9-11, our Department of Navy signed away its right of revocation under National Emergency order to let Laurelwood Homes, LLC refinance the mortgage at a better interest rate!  (Read the letter attached to our March 5, 2010 post from Laurelwood's attorney William Shook to the Navy, explaining why the Navy needed to revoke the clause...a real eye-opener).

Bottom line, and let us be clear that NOPE never held ANYONE at Earle responsible for this: SOMEONE at the Department of Navy in Washington called the shots and put money ahead of national defense and tried to squirm out of a bad business deal, without the public's knowledge. Simple as that.

Certainly we are ecstatic with the outcome, whereby Laurelwood housing will disappear. However, pundits and objectors of NOPE's mission alike need to be aware that higher-ups within the Department of Navy were the ones who brought this case upon the neighbors of NWS Earle, not the other way around. This case was spawned by horrific financial mismanagement at the Department's top level, and the Pentagon's failure to monitor a Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) rife with mismanagement and overspending.

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