Friday, March 5, 2010

More proof that the Navy lied to us and a U.S. Congressman about why it cannot revoke the Laurelwood lease

Through the Freedom of Information Act, NOPE obtained a May 30, 2002 letter from William Shook, attorney for Laurelwood Homes, LLC owner Teri Fischer to Department of Navy official Duncan Holaday, explaining why the Navy needed to sign away (which it ultimately did, without telling the public)its contractual right to revoke the 52-year Laurelwood privatized housing contract in order for Ms. Fischer to refinance her loan through a commercial lender.

There are a few morals here: 1) the DoN not only put the U.S. in danger (i.e. exposure to terror attacks on NWS Earle now that there will be unimpeded access to the Laurelwood development) by signing away a vital contract revocation clause, for no good reason other than to give one of its private housing contractors a sweetheart deal, and 2) during a face-to-face 2008 meeting with high-ranking DoN officials, lied to a U.S. Congressman (Chris Smith) and the public (NOPE representatives) - much as it did in its Laurelwood impact statement (EIS) -- about its motivations for going thru with the civilian-rental phase of the 52-year lease.

For those not close to our case since 2008, NOPE has objected from the get-go to a DoN plan to open NWS Earle to civilian housing, for numerous security, financial and environmental reasons, arguing the Navy should either by revoking the contract or buying it out. The Navy never told anyone it had signed away the revocation clause; NOPE found out when we obtained the lease agreement thru the Freedom of Information Act. Rather, it said the government could not afford to get out of the housing deal and did not want to be a bad business partner to military contractors.

That leaves the Navy with only the buyout option, and considering the silence from DoN leadership in Washington, NOPE can only suspect that the Navy is going through with its civilian rental phase of the Laurelwood lease. Citing the latest FOIA discovery, however, perhaps it is time for our federal legislators to call for a wider investigation of this matter, considering the thinking process (or obvious lack thereof) behind the Laurelwood housing contract mess, and to follow the money trail.

NOPE invites you to read the attached 3-page letter and share your thoughts with us.

Senate Budget committee passes bill requiring Earle probe

S762 was approved (11-0, with two abstentions) yesterday by the NJ Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and, according to this press release from the District 12 offices of Beck-O'Scanlon-Casagrande, will go to the full Senate for vote on March 11. Kudos to District 12's team, and to the Manns (Elaine and David) and Wilcoxes (Fulton and Susan) for their testimony in Trenton yesterday on behalf of NOPE.

This is progress toward the much-needed, common sense cost benefits and security study by NJ's Treasury Department into the Department of Navy's plan to convert Laurelwood military housing into civilian rental housing within the next few months. NOPE is certain that, combined with the GAO's study on the federal level, government investigations into this debable will validate NOPE's contention that civilian housing at Earle is a disaster on many fronts.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

NOPE supporters need to thank Elaine and Fulton

At the drop of a hat, NOPE political liaison Elaine Mann and business case analyst Fulton Wilcox are making their way to Trenton for today's 1 p.m. Senate budget committee meeting at which S762 will be discussed, contrary to what we expected. Originally, we were informed this was a closed-door meeting with no public involvement, but Elaine and Fulton answered the last-minute call from Senator Beck's office to attend for possible testimony. All NOPE supporters need to recognize the personal sacrifice of these two (and other) core committee volunteers, especially in our seemingly never-ending Trenton efforts.

We will provide updates later today on the outcome of this latest page in the S762 bill saga, which at this point we suspect could be moot anyway, considering word that we've gotten that the DEP's acting commissioner went ahead and checked off on Earle's permits for the proposed road to nowhere (i.e. Laurelwood). We are trying to confirm this information.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Another case of mistrust

Citing NOPE's ongoing objections to the Department of Navy's plan to convert underutilized military housing at NWS Earle into a free-for-all civilian community on an active Naval weapons base, and observations of the nearby Fort Monmouth relocation debacle and the U.S. Army's associated bill of goods, we turn supporters' attention to this story from CNN to highlight why local communities, such as ours, need to be skeptical of any DoD housing/infrastructure plans.

Residents and business leaders of Hinesville, Georgia, home to Fort Stewart, took U.S. Army leaders' word and patriotically supported their Military in building up the area's infrastructure ahead of a promised influx of 10,000 soldiers and their families. Area developers poured a reported $200 million into the infrastructure (i.e. sewer, utilities) to support the Army's need for area housing, only to the have the rug pulled from underneath them when the DoD altered course on where to send the soldiers. And, of course, the Pentagon washes its hands of any responsibility, arguing that it's best for the Army to give the answers. The Army, no surprise, was unavailable for comment to CNN.

Skeptics surely could argue that the developers did nothing more than speculate, but the CNN piece would suggest otherwise - that these people answered the Army's call to provide much-needed soldier housing (and other eventual services; i.e. schools). But, no matter how you look at it, the U.S. taxpayer is the one left holding the bag. As civilians, it is our patriotic duty to do all we can to support our Military's needs, much as we have locally for NWS Earle and Fort Monmouth dependents for decades. Yet, reciprocal consideration is absent when the DoD changes course on base staffing, ill-advisedly relocates a base for no apparently good reason, or goes full steam on projects that, ultimately, are ill-conceived and a waste of money.

This is precisely why Colts Neck, Tinton Falls and all of NJ is in the throes of the Laurelwood housing mess at NWS Earle - the DoN knew at the time that Laurelwood was being built in the 1980s that it was relocating the homeport of ships full of sailors designated to live at Laurelwood, yet it still went ahead with a costly housing project that, in the end, is now left for an unwitting base commander and area residents to deal with years down the road. Clearly, the Pentagon/DoD needs to articulate a clearly business strategy when justifying expenditures. Local communities should not be devastated by empty promises from military leaders, poor planning and political or leadership favors that, in the end, compounds years worth of bad decisions and complies with a model that maybe worked 50-75 years ago, but clearly does not in today's world.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

T Minus 60 and Counting...

NOPE supporters and other welcome visitors to our blog (including distinguished members of the Department of Navy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Congress and New Jersey legislature, among others) already notice the snarky ticking time bomb graphic to the left, but two days into March we would have expected some kind of commentary from the Navy in Washington on its plan to move forward with civilian housing at NWS Earle (i.e. whether it will still happen as planned or the parties are discussing a buyout).

That the DoN's silence is deafening is all the more impetus for NOPE to intensify its objections heading toward the April 30, 2010, expiration of the military-use phase of the Laurelwood pact and transition to the civilian-use phase thru 2040. This means that NOPE's thousands of area supporters need to be "at the ready" to take action in the next 60 days, so stay tuned here and with your direct NOPE contacts for more details.

In the meantime, Fulton Wilcox reviewed the bid documents on the NWS Earle security guard contract up for bids and notes "there is no provision for security Laurelwood or covering the gate openings/closings for trains or vehicles crossing the proposed access road." (We remind readers that the proposed 1.7-mile unimpeded access road to Laurelwood from just south of the main access gate on Rt. 34 will cross at least one - maybe two - rail lines inside of Earle over which the Navy transports high-powered munitions and other things that go "boom" to ships at Earle's waterfront base off Rt. 36.)

As civilians, we are unclear how to interpret this discovery, but it suggests that either the winning bidder a) will have no role in securing NWS Earle from a new civilian town inside the base, or b) has no clue that it will be responsible for supplementing the DoN's responsibility to police Laurelwood and the new, proposed unimpeded access road, in addition to its primary objective of augmenting base-force protection. We will review whether to contact the contract bidders to alert them to these possibilities.

In the meantime, NOPE will continue to monitor the contract security guard situation as part of our preparations for the 60-day countdown to proposed civilian housing at NWS Earle. Much like the temperatures outside, things will be heating up very quickly for NOPE thru April.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Quick update on NJ bill S762

The NJ Senate Budget Committee meeting scheduled for Thursday at 1 p.m. in Trenton is not a public session; it is a workshop, so to rectify what we sent supporters this morning by way of the NOPE newsletter, we will not be needed to testify. Meanwhile, Senator Beck's commentary on S762 on The Breeze this morning (follow this link, around the 14-minute mark) suggests the measure will be moved out of committee and expeditiously to the Senate floor for a vote, so NOPE will keep supporters updated on this front.