By Chris and Jennifer Boles
We live on Concord Road, about 3/4 mile from the Bedford NWIRP (Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant) on Hartwell Road. We are hoping you will take some time this week to learn about a couple of issues that could have a permanent impact on Bedford, and especially some of the neighborhoods and streets within a mile or two of the North Hanscom Airfield (located just off Hartwell Road, across the street from Hartwell Hill and one of The Edge Sports Center’s playing fields).
Please consider the possibilities, then we hope you will join us at the Special Town Meeting on Monday, July 30, 7:30 pm at Bedford High School, and vote your choices.
Some background information
The Navy no longer uses or needs a 16-acre parcel of land in that area, and in 2011 offered it to Massport, who recently turned it down. At that point, GSA (General Services Administration) added it to a list of Federal properties to be sold at Auction. The usual process of offering Federal real estate to the Town in which it is located before going to Auction was somehow by-passed. Our Town officials reacted quickly and asked that the Auction be halted long enough to allow Bedford the opportunity to explore the possible acquisition of the Navy parcel.
A very useful source of information about the issues is the Selectmen’s Letter to the Editor on July 19th in The Bedford Citizen, explaining why, on very short notice, they felt it imperative to call for a Special Town Meeting. They also outlined their strategy regarding the Navy Parcel, and asked residents to please attend Special Town Meeting in order to “support efforts to maintain the integrity of our neighborhoods and perhaps open the door to new options for municipal land.” In addition, on July 23, Bedford Public TV showed an interesting interview with Mike Rosenberg, Selectman, and Julie Turner, Managing Editor of The Bedford Citizen, discussing reasons for the Town’s concern and what actions the Town proposes to take.
Article 2 asks permission from the voters for the Town to pursue acquisition of the parcel – if Town officials decide it should be in Bedford’s interest, by 3 possible methods:
- Purchase; or
- Seizure by Eminent Domain, not from the Navy, but from any private entity who buys it at GSA Auction for a use that could be considered detrimental to residents of surrounding neighborhoods or the Town in general.
You might think that Option 1, a gift from the Navy, would be totally unlikely … however, it has happened in the past, and in similar circumstances to ours.
In 2007, the Navy gifted 9700 acres of one of their NWIRPs (Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plants) to the small town of McGregor, Texas after working closely with the Town officials and residents for 14 years, spending $45 million dollars on needed remediation, clean up, and demolitions. The gift was made as a gesture of gratitude and goodwill to the little town that had hosted the Navy facility for decades in the service of the nation, with the intention that McGregor redevelop it in whatever ways the town officials and residents felt best served the community’s needs. (Our 16-acre Navy parcel is also part of a larger facility which served the nation for 48 years as an NWIRP).
At this point, there is no guarantee the Navy will consider gifting the land to Bedford. But we can’t know for sure unless we try. Another possibility to consider is that the GSA itself sometimes offers up to a 100% discount on the appraised value of federal land – if a municipality plans to use the property for certain purposes that serve community needs (for example, parks and recreation, wildlife habitat, education, public safety, housing, etc ).
Acquisition of the parcel, by purchase, seizure, or gifting creates opportunities for Bedford (especially if the Navy might consider a request from the Town to demolish and remove the old abandoned 1959 hangars and cracked, weedy concrete pads, as a gesture of goodwill, so that the land comes to the Town in the most usable form possible. Again, there’s no guarantee – only a possibility to explore – and only if Bedford and its citizens want to ask the Navy to reconsider the historic preservation aspect).
Acquisition might allow opportunities such as
- A solar energy farm (already very popular near many airfields and airports in the U.S. and other countries);
- A park or playing fields;
- Habitat for a number of the rare threatened, and endangered species that live on and near Hanscom Field;
- A one-acre dog park (with electricity and water lines already present, no need to clear a single tree or level the land, Massport as its abutter, and no need to commit to a 99-year presence as would be required by a Stanton Foundation Grant, if for some reason the Town and residents decide the dog park just isn’t working out as they had hoped – details you may be familiar with, in case you have been following the ups and downs of the dog park initiative this year);
- Land for perhaps a Museum(either Air and Space or to honor and preserve Bedford’s own history) or an Arts Center;
- Additional space that some of our municipal departments might need (Fire, Police, DPW, Schools Department, Parks, or Recreation, etc.);
- Perhaps even some housing …
- Any one of the above, or some combination that our Town officials and residents might choose.
Article 3 proposes a protective measure for the Town and residents, by rezoning the 16-acre former Navy land from Industrial to Residential.
The Rezoning Article aims to protect residents near and far from the impacts of possible industrial development on the site: for instance, it is not hard to imagine that a large distribution warehouse backing onto Massport land and taxiways, would be a logical and tempting choice for a shipping company.
Those of you who live along one of the Massport Runway Repaving Project Haul Routes will recall last summer’s six weeks of 24/7 heavy truck trips (thousands of trips) rumbling along Hartwell Road, Concord Road, North Road, South Road, and Summer Street, traveling to and from Dracut. The trucks were confined by Massport to those roads. A private industry might very well choose other more direct routes to its destinations (such as straight up Hartwell Road to South Road to Town Center and the Great Road to Route 128, Route 3 or Route 495), in addition to using the former Massport Haul Routes. A steady stream of 18-wheeler delivery trucks could once again be streaming through our town streets and neighborhoods, 24/7. And it wouldn’t be just for 6 weeks, it could be FOREVER.
There might even be an additional benefit to rezoning the 16 acres from Industrial to Residential: Residential zoning holds the Navy (which is required by federal law to assume all liability, responsibility, and expense for remediation of any contamination generated during the 48 years that it owned the land – in perpetuity, no matter who the land is sold or given to) … to the very highest standard of remediation for both the land and associated groundwater – much higher than is required for Industrial zoning.
Again, we hope that you will consider the possibilities, and please come to the Special Town Meeting next week to support our Selectmen in their efforts to protect our neighborhoods and explore beneficial uses of the Navy land.