Group calls for hearing in reaction to proposed cannon range in Lewis
By Gwendolyn Craig
In light of an application to test the ballistics of military cannons in the Town of Lewis, the Adirondack Council is calling on the Adirondack Park Agency to hold a hearing and create a policy against private party military weapons testing in the park.
“A new policy would protect birds and wildlife in the Champlain Valley, prevent a degradation of property values for people living near the proposed test site and save the quiet enjoyment of the Adirondacks for the people of Lewis,” wrote Willie Janeway, executive director of the council, to APA Executive Director Barbara Rice on Sept. 1.
Michael Hopmeier, president and principal investigator for Florida-based Unconventional Concepts Inc., said his plan is to test the internal ballistics of military cannons made at Benet Laboratories in Watervliet. Hopmeier owns the former Atlas F nuclear missile silo in Lewis and is currently conducting small firearms testing indoors there.
Hopmeier called the council’s letter “a bunch of emotional and random statements not based on reality in any way shape or form.” No one from the council has contacted him for more information, he said, and he did not think the organization had read his application to the APA.
The project, should it get approved, would be on a former cleared woodlot owned by James Pulsifer. Pulsifer is in support of the proposal, as is Lewis Town Supervisor James Monty. They believe the testing range could bring jobs and families to the community. Five groups of neighbors wrote the APA against the proposal and no comments were submitted in support.
Among those letter writers, Daniel and Lanita Canavan also wrote to the Adirondack Explorer about potential water quality impacts, noise and other disturbances.
“(T)here is the potential for negative change whittling away at the reason the Adirondack Park was established,” the Canavans wrote. “Unless we can be convinced otherwise, we do not believe this is the right business for this community located within the Blue Line.”
The APA has said it has never reviewed such an application, and Hopmeier’s is still considered incomplete.
In his letter to Rice, Janeway asked that if the application does get completed that the agency hold an adjudicatory hearing. That is a fact-finding hearing before a judge, and it is the only way commissioners may deny a permit. The APA board has not held such a hearing in over a decade.
Hopmeier said he expected a hearing to be part of the process for approving his application, and thought the council’s request was irrelevant.
John Sheehan, communications director for the council, said in an interview that he was concerned by the proposal and had never seen anything like it. Sheehan has served on military panels focused on training in the Adirondack Park for the past three decades. He believes there is “no location in the Adirondacks that could be sacrificed for firing cannons into it.”
Janeway suggested in the letter that the established artillery range at Fort Drum would be a more suitable location for Hopmeier’s project. Fort Drum is about 174 miles from Benet’s Watervliet arsenal compared to the 120 miles to Lewis. Janeway suggested wildlife might make a home of the sand mound used as a backstop and questioned how plants and animals may be impacted.
“At the proposed test site in Lewis and nearby, we have grave concerns about the collateral damage that could occur from cannon shell firings, flights and impacts,” Janeway wrote. “The nature of the application seems to presume that there are wastelands within the Adirondack Park where nothing lives or can live. Such places do not exist.”
Hopmeier called the council’s concerns about overfiring projectiles “totally irrelevant” because his research and development project fires a blank, inert steel round. He was also not worried about wildlife moving into anything he might install on the project site, and was miffed by the “wastelands” comment.
Hopmeier said he is in the process of addressing the APA’s lingering questions to his incomplete application.