Friday, July 16, 2010

An eerie silence

The silence remains deafening! By now, NOPE had hoped to learn of some breakthrough in buyout negotiations between the Department of Navy and Laurelwood Homes, LLC, since the parties are evidently beyond the 60-day deadline to address a complaint filed by Laurelwood owner Teri Fischer with the DoN's contracting officer over the Navy's reported initial $9 million bid. But still no word...

Meanwhile, based on first-hand accounts from NOPE sources, NWS Earle and Colts Neck Township Committee are seemingly doing nothing to foster goodwill toward their neighbors, with apparent clandestine meetings over the DoN's bid to rent 49 vacant base homes owned by Balfour Beatty (presumably the Stark Road complex) to either local veterans or civilians. This rumor, in and of itself, portends trouble with Tinton Falls over the decades-long fued over educational responsibility for residents at NWS Earle, as well as interested other stakeholders such as the thousands of resident supporters of NOPE.

It was wonderful for everyone to rejoice back in April when the DoN withdrew its Record of Decision on proposed civilian housing and unimpeded access to Laurelwood at NWS Earle, but the process must be seen through completion to satisfy a NOPE community that, for 30 months and counting, has acted in the best interests of NWS Earle host towns, and likely Earle itself. Maybe it is time for federal, state and local leaders to hold the DoN's feet to the fire again, so to speak, pertaining to poor infrastructure planning and obvious mismanagement of privatized housing deals at NWS Earle.

Housing issues at NWS Earle are causing nothing but unnecessary stress, headaches and, at times, infighting for the surrounding communities.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

GAO study into Laurelwood, Section 8 military housing due in September

Responding to a brief email query this morning, our contacts within the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative wing of the U.S. Congress, inform us that late-September is the target to release a much-anticipated (at least by NOPE, anyway...) study into Laurelwood housing and the status of seven other "Section 8" housing complexes on domestic military bases.

The GAO findings, in our view, will not only shed light on why it was a good idea for the Department of Navy to withdraw its so-called Record of Decision to convert 300 Laurelwood houses at NWS Earle into civilian rentals (and construct the ill-fated unimpeded access road through the base), but also prove valuable to the Congress in its oversight of military base housing nationwide. As we have railed for 2+ years, and the GAO has uncovered in other reports, oversight of military housing (and the outsourcing of construction and management of this privately-built and owned housing) is extremely lacking and needs to improve - to prevent situations elsewhere in the U.S. similar to what we have gone through with Laurelwood.

Meanwhile, in the days ahead we will follow up with our elected officials to see whether:
  1. the DoN/Earle and Laurelwood Homes, LLC have made progress in buyout negotiations and a Laurelwood teardown schedule;
  2. A2014, the Assembly measure to have New Jersey's Treasurer probe the financial impact (to the State) of the Laurelwood housing conversion, will make it through committee (Military and Veterans Affairs, which has not met publicly since May) or this companion measure to Senate-approved S762 is dead because of the impending Laurelwood buyout.  In our view, it is still important for the Treasurer to conduct this study, if nothing more than to establish a precedent by which NJ's leadership can handle potential other unfunded federal mandates (i.e. to protect New Jersey's interest in the event that Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Picattiny Arsenal, etc. seek to convert other underutilized privatized military housing or facilities into civilian enclaves); 
  3. the supposed offering of underutilized Balfour Beatty housing at NWS Earle will, indeed, be made available to tenants other than active military (i.e., vets, civilians), as we reported here last week; this is clearly a case worth watching, particularly as Earle's host towns grapple with proposed property tax caps, school budget cuts and reduced state aid, to name a few constraints. The DoN's earlier actions surrounding proposed civilian Laurelwood housing and impeded access through Earle clearly showed the DoD clearly has little concern about how its decisions impact local stakeholders.
Supporters, rest assured that NOPE is alive and well and will not disband until our mission is complete - to ensure the official dissolution of the Laurelwood housing contract and demolition of the 300 vacant homes.