Navy is ignoring its responsibility


To the Editor:

The U.S. Navy is inviting comments on a “proposed remedial action plan” for Nomans Land, a 600-acre island three miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, part of the town of Chilmark. The “action” proposed is to do nothing further to clean up the pollution and unexploded ordnance remaining on the island, which the Navy used as a base and aircraft gun and bombing range from 1943 to 1996.

Back in February 2000, the Navy was arguing that it would not be able to do remediation work requested by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection because of the existence of an endangered plant species on the island. The Navy bombed and strafed Nomans for 53 years without showing concern for anything living on Nomans. Their sudden concern for an endangered plant was an obvious ploy to get out of its responsibility to clean up its mess.

Now, 20 years later, the same attitude is evident. The Navy is claiming that any cleanup efforts beyond what they have been forced to do by MassDEP would cause harm to the environment. Again, where was the Navy’s concern for the environment when they were bombing Nomans?

In 1998 the Navy transferred Nomans to another federal agency — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — which in turn designated the island a wildlife refuge, closed to the public. This and posting “No Trespassing” signs was also an evasion by the Navy of its responsibility to clean up its mess. A piece of land where it is unsafe for anyone to set foot is obviously not remediated. Nomans was more or less designated a national sacrifice zone.

There is no mention in the plan of health effects on people on Martha’s Vineyard resulting from 53 years of bombing and gunnery, some of it probably using depleted uranium. The plan does not propose a serious cleanup of UXO beyond that which is visible on the ground. It is a cleanup in name only.

The plan is a whitewash and a disgrace, both for the Navy and the regulators at MassDEP who have facilitated and approved it.

Richard Hugus

Richard Hugus is a resident of Falmouth who worked as a private citizen for 14 years on the cleanup of Otis/Camp Edwards military base on Cape Cod. He took part in discussions about Nomans in the year 2000.  –Ed.