Friday, February 19, 2010

NOPE welcomes new NWS Earle base commander

The Asbury Park Press this morning reports that Capt. David "Fuzz" Harrison was sworn in as the new commander at Naval Weapons Station Earle and that Capt. Gary Maynard is headed for greener pastures (and presumably fewer headaches) in Hawaii. NOPE welcomes Capt. Harrison and wishes nothing but the best for Capt. Maynard during his transition to Pearl Harbor.

The transition to Capt. Harrison is likely a non-issue regarding the Laurelwood housing issue, considering NOPE's recognition (unlike the media's, and APP's Jim McConville in today's report) that all shots on the proposed civilian rental are being called MUCH higher up the Department of Navy food chain in Washington, D.C. McConville could not be more wrong in reporting that Capt. Maynard "was also in the middle of a protracted and sometimes bitter dispute with Colts Neck residents over the Navy's proposal to lease to civilians its Laurelwood housing area." NO ONE started a dispute specifically with Capt. Maynard, an important member of our Monmouth County community. (Too, the "dispute" goes well beyond Colts Neck...all the way up to the U.S. Senate, in fact.)

No one was at loggerheads with Capt. Maynard, personally. The discrepancy remains squarely with the DoN, which put Capt. Maynard (and now Capt. Harrison) in the middle of a PR firestorm with not only the NOPE community, but more significantly, our representatives in D.C. (i.e. Senators Menendez and Lautenberg, Congressmen Smith and Holt), who have objections with the DoN's Laurelwood housing plan.

More interestingly in today's APP story, Mr. McConville reports that "a final decision on use of the housing complex is still yet to be made." We will follow up with Mr. McConville for clarification on his wording, but NOPE has been under the impression (as detailed by the Navy in its obviously flawed EIS) that the final decision has already been made - that the military-use phase (i.e. "in-lease") expires April 30 and the civilian rental phase (i.e. "out-lease") begins May 1, and civilian renters could reside at Laurelwood as soon as this September.

If Mr. McConville's quote is accurate, this could signal that the DoN is having a change of heart that, as NOPE has argued for 2+ years, civilian housing and unimpeded access (for anyone who can cut a rent check) inside an active Naval ordnance storage facility for the next 30 years, is a horrible move from security, business-case and environmental/health perspectives. We will alert NOPE supporters of any feedback on our followup with Mr. McConville.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

S762 Passes NJ Senate Committee

Good news out of Trenton this afternoon...the Senate's Community and Urban Affairs Committee, now headed by District 1 Senator Jeff Van Drew, PASSED a proposed Laurelwood housing cost-benefits analysis study by the N.J. Treasurer 4-0 (with 1 abstention), known as Bill No. 762. (The companion Assembly measure is A2014.)

NOPE legislative liaison Elaine Mann, who testified at this morning's hearing along with business case analyst...and Army veteran...Fulton Wilcox (communications director Diana Piotrowski also attended), informs us that she has already reached out to new Senate President Steven Sweeney (District 3) to "post" (a procedural move) the bill for full Senate approval, which we hope for sooner rather than later. We are still looking into whether the Assembly will have to rehear the measure, but we'll keep everyone posted.

Again, S762-A2014 is a practical, common sense measure that, along with the U.S. congressional (i.e., Government Accountability Office, or GAO) study underway, will validate NOPE's concerns about civilian housing at NWS Earle as a serious security compromise and about a half-billion-dollar unfunded mandate to New Jersey. NOPE will continue to press the community's objections as we approach the Department of Navy's "out-lease" (i.e. civilian rental) phase of an antiquated 52-year housing contract with Laurelwood Homes LLC.

Listen, too, to "The Breeze" (107.1 and 99.7 FM), to catch their reporting of today's events, and featuring commentary from Fulton about NOPE's objection to civilian housing at NWS Earle.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NOPE ally seen as next head to defense subcommittee

Norman Dicks, a representative from Washington state and co-signor with Rep. Rush Holt of this April 17, 2009 letter to the Department of Navy installations chief requesting a cost-benefits analysis of the Laurelwood civilian housing plan, is poised to head the U.S House Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee, according to The (Tacoma, WA) News Tribune.

Admittedly a highly speculative angle, this is potentially good news for NOPE and service members who work at NWS Earle who we understand do not want civilian housing, in that Mr. Dicks' control over the $650 million discretionary portion of the Pentagon's budget could prove favorable in funding that the DoN would need in the F2011 Defense Authorization to buy out Laurelwood Homes, LLC and make this ill-fated contract go away once and for all. The DoN's contention all along has been that it cannot afford a buyout, but perhaps with Mr. Dicks' recognition of the Laurelwood housing plan, an appropriate, expedient buyout will be budgeted. NOPE will stay on top of this story.