Application to fire howitzer remains incomplete
By Gwendolyn Craig
The owner of a former Atlas F nuclear missile silo in Lewis is still hoping for Adirondack Park Agency approval to test-fire military artillery made at Benét Laboratories in Watervliet. After nearly two years since the first application submission, however, the agency said it remains incomplete.
Michael Hopmeier, president and principal investigator for Florida-based Unconventional Concepts Inc., has been testing the ballistics of smaller munitions indoors at the missile silo site in rural Essex County. Benét Laboratories is looking to test the internal ballistics of U.S. military cannons to make them lighter, more efficient, and less expensive. The Watervliet Arsenal in Albany County does not have the capacity to test such large-caliber guns, the Army told the Explorer last year.
Unconventional Concept’s latest application proposes testing the internal ballistics of howitzers, a weapon similar to a cannon, with long-range capabilities.
Hopmeier plans to conduct tests in the area of Hale Hill Lane, shooting into a pile of sand and using privately owned Big Church Mountain as a backstop. He plans a series of one to two shots per day for a maximum of three consecutive days, according to records. The tests would occur over five years.
The closest resident to the test site is James Pulsifer, who owns the land on Hale Hill Lane where Hopmeier plans the tests. Pulsifer has been supportive of the project and is leasing his land to Hopmeier.
However, five sets of neighbors expressed concern about the proposal last year, including the owners of Magic Pines Family Campground, whose business is about two miles from the test site.
The APA oversees public and private development in the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park, and issued a fourth notice of incomplete application to Unconventional Concepts on March 16. Hopmeier and his attorney Matthew Norfolk responded to some of the agency’s questions in a July 31 submission. The APA said it is waiting for additional information in response to staff’s questions before determining if the application is complete.
Most of the agency’s questions concerned noise the project would generate.
According to the Adirondack Park Agency Act, staff and the board must consider “development considerations” when approving a permit, which could have the “potential for adverse impact upon the park’s natural, scenic, aesthetic, ecological, wildlife, historic, recreational or open space resources.” Noise and noise levels are two considerations.
But Hopmeier does not believe the APA has any valid reasons to deny his application. When asked about his proposed timeline, Hopmeier expressed frustration at how long the application process was taking.
“We’re kind of at their mercy,” Hopmeier said.
The proposed test site is surrounded by parcels assigned a hodgepodge of different land uses. Within a few miles, Taylor Pond Wild Forest and Jay Mountain Wilderness are constitutionally protected forest preserve. Also within a few miles are the mining operations of NYCO Minerals, (which were purchased by Imerys), lands zoned specifically in the park for industrial use.
The howitzer’s sound levels when fired are expected to be above 160 dba, louder than a jet engine, according to the application. At one parcel of nearby wild forest, sound levels from howitzer firing are expected to be around 107 dba, about the equivalent of a chainsaw motor.
At four other nearby wild forest parcels, “no appreciable change to ambient sound levels” are expected. The sound study noted the nearby mining operation is permitted to blast at decibel levels higher than what Unconventional Concepts proposes.
Hopmeier said his testing site is further from sensitive state lands than the mining operation. He thinks the APA feels it is “OK to strip resources out of the park,” but does not want to approve something beneficial to national security.
Hopmeier’s business has submitted a second application to the agency, this one to erect several tents on the missile silo property. The tents will keep various equipment from the rain and hide anything from drones, according to the application records. The APA requires a permit because the tents are considered a “greater than 25% expansion of an existing commercial use.”
The APA has deemed the tent application complete and it is currently out for public comment. Comments are due by Sept. 7 to Fred Aldinger, P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977 or to RPcomments@apa.ny.gov referencing APA Project 2023-0111.
Adirondack policy, in plain speak.
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