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.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback

In the aftermath of Thursday night's announcement of the Department of Navy's $32.7 million buyout of the Laurelwood housing agreement at NWS Earle, it was interesting to read the (seemingly negative) reaction of anonymous armchair QBs the past few days to the Asbury Park Press story in Friday's edition.
  • "An American Tragedy(!)", wrote hthegerman, a frequent NOPE basher on the APP boards who added that "the Navy was forced into this predicament." 
    • (Provocative, but 100% incorrect; the Navy created its own mess. We brought it to light and provoked the only rational outcome.) 
  • "Another colossal waste of taxpayer money...this is why our taxes are so high," wrote LocalGuy77
    • (Wrong again. Local taxes would have been WAY higher with NWS Earle operating a civilian "town" inside its property line; i.e. educational expense, no local tax on federal property, added cost to NJ to process any legal matters of prospective tenants for the next 30 years before the mandated 2040 tear-down date, etc.)
  • BlueOrchid chimed in with a suggestion to use the Laurelwood homes "for the mentally ill...they could have a stable place to live and social services could help them." 
    • Quite an interesting plan -- putting the mentally ill in the middle of Navy base where the military stores bombs and often sets off explosions as part of its regular routine.
  •  "Fence it and sell it to the builder to rent out," suggests EastCoast, perhaps new to the scene and unaware that this was the Navy's plan ( from Day One. 
  • Plus, the usual mudslinging toward any objector to proposed civilian housing at Laurelwood as "snobs, merry morons (NOPE), etc." 
These charges are fine, considering we've never been thin-skinned at NOPE or hid from our mission - to prevent a security disaster from ever happening at NWS Earle that could have resulted because of a civilian housing plan that was entirely an economic -- rather than a beneficial military or strategic -- decision by Navy leaders in Washington.  Our mission was NEVER personal (i.e. anti-Navy, anti-veterans, anti-affordable housing, etc.).  NOPE merely stood up to the DoN about a force-fed, detrimental proposal.

NOPE recognized from the outset in late-2007 that a handful of charged-up local affordable housing advocates would ignore the facts of our case (i.e. that opening unused NWS Earle housing to anyone who could cut a rent check was an extremely toxic and expensive venture to the surrounding community and the DoN itself) and turn a ridiculous housing conversion proposal by the Department of Navy into a class battle to promote their own forum.  That's fine, but extremely misguided and the crux of the above criticisms from the APP message boards.

In short, NOPE proved the merits of the community's case through extensive research, gathering of government and military documents through the Freedom of Information Act, high-level discussions with local, state and federal bipartisan elected officials as well as meetings with the Department of Navy, and articulated the facts to thousands of residents in the surrounding communities through door-to-door contact, the digital media (i.e. our blog and website), on the ballfields, letter writing and town hall-style briefings and presentations that, in some cases, were attended by 300-500 area citizens. 

And this was done by passionate, open-minded volunteers and servants (three respected veterans of three branches of the U.S. Military among us) who gave freely of their time to the benefit of their community and in the face of naysayers. NOPE was never smoke and mirrors. Respectfully, responsibly and resolutely, we gathered and presented the facts. Bottom line. Our detractors have every right to continue to ignore those facts, but turning the outcome of our case into a personal attack does nothing good for anyone.