Monday, August 30, 2010

Laurelwood not the end of NWS Earle housing concerns

NOPE heightened awareness about proposed civilian housing at NWS Earle, but unbeknownst to many area residents, the Department of Navy is now offering a cluster (separate from Laurelwood) of underutilized homes, owned and operated by U.K.-based military contractor Balfour Beatty, at Mainside Earle.

As we noted on July 30, the DoN has decided that it is good policy to offer rentals to people (i.e. military contractors, military retirees) with no direct affiliation to NWS Earle, presumably to get the most out of vacant housing, financially. (From what we understand, upwards of 50%-75% of the 100 or so Balfour Beatty houses are vacant.) What other rationale would there be to invite outsiders on and off one of the nation's largest weapons storage bases through the main gate on Rt. 34 in Colts Neck?

The fact that prospective new residents to the Balfour Beatty homes will require military IDs and routinely pass through security allays the primary base security concerns set forth by NOPE in the Laurelwood housing situation (i.e. via a proposed unimpeded access road, which the DoN ultimately scuttled), but should not be ignored by local citizens.

From a financial perspective, the introduction of tenants with zero affiliation to NWS Earle poses additional undue stress on host school districts Tinton Falls (K-8) and Freehold Regional (high school), which subsidize the education of school-aged Navy dependents now and get little to no federal aid to cover the costs. To be sure, the schooling issue has neighboring towns embroiled in litigation over a headache brought on by our DoN's wanton disregard for its neighbors...and now the Department's self-centered actions with Balfour Beatty housing add insult to injury.

In addition, there is no guarantee that prospective Balfour renters -- with no current affiliation with NWS Earle's mission to service our nation's Naval fleet -- will conform to the communal and security values of the Navy's personnel who work and reside at the base.  As a 2009 study from the Inspector General found that Earle already had a hard time following security mandates and reporting requirements, will introducing 50-70 new, unaffiliated families of tenants improve base security?

These are questions that the Department of Navy or Earle's base commander needs to address publicly immediately, and ones that NJ's state and local legislators should challenge in the wake of the Department of Navy's retreat from its ill-fated plan to open Laurelwood housing to tenants with no affiliation with Earle.