Government agencies whose actions cannot stand on merit alone often rely on process issues to shield a bad decision in the making from the light of public scrutiny. The proposed clearcutting of 170 acres of forest and disruption of another 200 acres of land atop the largest source of water supply on Cape Cod by the Massachusetts National Guard at Joint Base Cape Cod is a bad idea. The Guard is behaving like they know it too. APCC filed a request to receive copies of the 900 or so—no one outside the Guard knows for sure how many there really are—public comments submitted in response to the environmental assessment of the project. The Guard’s response was to deny the applicability of the Massachusetts Public Records Law to the request and to suggest that the request be filed with the feds. No records were released to APCC and we were sent on our merry way into the bureaucratic maze of finger pointing and obfuscation.
Think about this for a moment. The project proponent, the Massachusetts Guard Bureau, denied the request because they assert that even though it is their project, its federally funded so the Massachusetts disclosure law does not apply. How long do you think the feds are going to take to say something like this project is sponsored by the Commonwealth, so we don’t have records and go talk to the state? Not long I suspect. The result will be that the public will be denied access to comments that reflect the broad public concerns generated by the proposal. APCC didn’t ask for military secrets or classified documents. No, we asked for copies of comments submitted by the public so they could be reviewed by that same public. If public comments are not going to be made available to the public, it leaves one to wonder what, if anything, the leadership at JBCC thinks the public has a right to see.
Getting back to where I started, the behavior of the Guard Bureau makes me think they know the weight of the public comments are so damning as to doom the project. Unable to win the debate on the merits of their project, the Guard sure looks to me like they are using process impediments to delay and impair the public’s right to know. All the while they push the project forward outside the glare of public scrutiny. I could be wrong, and the Guard could prove me so by releasing the public comments. It’s actually a pretty simple way to deflect and debunk our argument and yet I doubt it will happen. Why? Because the Guard’s determination that the project as proposed is compatible with their statutory obligation to protect the water supply doesn’t stand up.
APCC has reviewed the Guard’s environmental assessment and has found it grossly inadequate and submitted comments to that effect. I suspect that the majority of the 900 public comments filed echo and amplify on our findings, and that the Guard has a problem they don’t want to admit. Eventually it will all come out; it always does. The Guard has a choice. It can return to the approach that has served the Cape and the Guard well the past few decades and engage in a serious and honest discussion about how to train while protecting the water supply. Or the Guard can continue to undermine decades of hard-earned trust and try to ram a bad project through. The right choice is clear.