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Federal officials approve plan for National Guard to build a new machine gun range on Cape Cod

Joint Base Cape Cod, MA -- 4/7/21 -- A view of the proposed site for a new machine gun range at Camp Edwards. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Joint Base Cape Cod, MA -- 4/7/21 -- A view of the proposed site for a new machine gun range at Camp Edwards. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff) Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The National Guard is set to announce Wednesday that it has received the go-ahead from federal officials to clear 170 acres of dense forest at Joint Base Cape Cod to build a sprawling machine gun range.

The National Guard Bureau, a federal agency overseeing state militias, determined that the proposed range would have “no significant impact” on the area’s ecology, according to an e-mail Guard officials sent Tuesday to local lawmakers and others on Cape Cod.

“After careful review ... I have concluded that implementation of the proposed action would not have a significant impact on the quality of the human or natural environment,” Colonel Anthony Hammett of the National Guard Bureau wrote in a document sent to the Massachusetts National Guard.

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Before the range can be built, it must still be certified under the National Environmental Policy Act and receive approval from the Massachusetts Environmental Management Commission.

The decision angered local environmental advocates who oppose the proposed range.

“This is further evidence that that Guard has no respect for the seriousness of the concerns raised by the public,” said Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. “The Cape will fight this aggressively.”

Guard officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Military officials want to clear thousands of pitch pine and scrub oak trees to make way for a new range for heavier weapons on the 15,000-acre base on the Upper Cape, one of only a few in Massachusetts where soldiers can drill with assault rifles and heavier weapons.

Opponents have cited an estimate by the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Woods Hole that clear-cutting the trees would release about 17,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide and eliminate the capacity to absorb some 300 additional metric tons a year.

They also worry about munitions and ordnance contaminating a fragile aquifer, the primary source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of residents in surrounding towns, including Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Sandwich.

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The Guard has scheduled a virtual public meeting on May 19 to discuss the implications of the approval.


David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.