In retaliation for the lack of vocal community support for a controversial machine gun range proposed for Joint Base Cape Cod, the commanding general has threatened to order the thousands of soldiers scheduled to visit the base every weekend this summer not to patronize local restaurants or other businesses.
In an e-mail this week to the deputy director of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, Brigadier General Christopher M. Faux complained that the “only folks that speak up are naysayers, activists, and anti-military groups.”
“They are the only ones contacting the [Congressional] delegation and swaying opinions against our project,” wrote Faux, executive director of Joint Base Cape Cod, who has proposed clearing 170 acres of woods to make way for a sprawling range that would support the use of heavy weapons. “With our impact on local business, it is hard to believe we have heard nothing in support.”
He added: “For that reason, I will be recommending a conditional confinement for the thousands of soldiers that train here each weekend over the summer to The Adjutant General [of the Massachusetts National Guard]. What that means is anyone training here will be directed to stay and eat on base.”
Faux’s e-mail was taken as a threat by officials at the Chamber of Commerce.
“I think the word I heard most from board members is that the communication we received was shocking,” said Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, which represents nearly 1,300 businesses across Cape Cod. “It seemed to be a clear quid pro quo: If you don’t do this, we’ll do that.”
What made it worse, she said, was that his threats came after more than a year of the pandemic.
“He was threatening local businesses who have just come through 15 months of pure hell,” she said. “We try to work with people, and we feel in this case, this was the exact opposite of that. The whole thing does not sit well with us.”
In his e-mail, Faux also said he intended to send a letter to the base’s full-time employees that would suggest that the community’s lack of support for the proposed gun range could hurt their jobs.
“The letter will also recommend to all that can, to take an extra few minutes to shop and spend money on the other side of the bridge,” he wrote in the e-mail, “showing the community the direct impact of the loss of their employment.”
Faux added: “It truly saddens me to even consider taking these steps, but I am more saddened by the lack of support from the businesses on Cape.”
Faux and other military officials have proposed clearing 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.
Last month, 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.
The finding angered local environmental advocates who oppose the proposed range. They 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.
“Throughout the environmental assessment process the Guard Bureau has resisted meaningful public engagement, ignored and dismissed legitimate public concerns and has self-certified their own analysis without substantiation,” said Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, who urged the Baker administration to stop the project.
Before the range can be built, it must be certified under the National Environmental Policy Act and receive approval from the Massachusetts Environmental Management Commission.
Before receiving Faux’s e-mail, the Chamber of Commerce hadn’t taken a public position on the range.
“We feel as an organization that our hand is being forced to make a statement in support of something in which we don’t feel there has been a sufficient policy process,” Northcross said. “At this point, we feel that there should be a science-based independent review of the environmental impacts.”
Reached on his cell phone while on vacation in Nebraska, Faux said he understood why Chamber of Commerce officials viewed his e-mail as a threat.
“That’s not how it was meant,” he said. “I was just saying that we need support, but don’t remain silent. I wanted to demonstrate the impact we have on our community.”
He added: “I hear people say they support us, but I don’t have any letters of support.”
After sending the e-mail, he said he heard from the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, whom he said rejected his proposal to confine soldiers to the base.
“He chewed me out,” Faux said.
After hanging up with a Globe reporter, Faux called back and acknowledged the inartful language of his e-mail.
“I probably should have read it more closely before sending it,” he said.