Applicant seeks to expand ballistics testing currently in place at former missile silo
By Gwendolyn Craig
Near a former Atlas F nuclear missile silo in Lewis, a national security consulting firm wants to fire military cannons into a pile of sand and use privately owned Big Church Mountain as a backstop.
Michael Hopmeier, president and principal investigator for Florida-based Unconventional Concepts Inc., said the Essex County site is perfect for testing the internal ballistics of U.S. military cannons. Big Church and Little Church mountains buffer the sound, its isolation allows for greater security, the area is already cleared and it’s not far (compared to other U.S. Army testing sites) from Benét Laboratories in Watervliet where the cannons are made.
Hopmeier has been operating indoor ballistics testing for smaller firearms at the former missile silo since 2018 or 2019, he said, but is now trying to move this latest project off-site to dampen the noise.
“We actually could have done all of that testing at the silo, but it would have made it a lot noisier,” Hopmeier said. “We wanted to be considerate to the local community.”
In an application to the Adirondack Park Agency, Hopmeier anticipated no more than three tests per month, one to three shots fired during each test. He is focused on analyzing the cannon’s tubes and recoiling systems.
The proposal is part of Hopmeier’s vision of an engineering hub in a bucolic Adirondack town with a population of about 1,300. He even dug a trench to install high-speed internet fiber to the silo site and surrounding neighbors.
In 2015, he created a limited liability company called Diversified Upstate Enterprises, which he said is the test branch of Unconventional Concepts. It contracts with branches of the Department of Defense, but also does research for other agencies. It has a full-time staff, and Hopmeier visits about once a month. The silo and laboratory are closed to the public.
The APA’s public comment period on the “shooting range” at Hale Hill Lane drew negative reactions from five sets of neighbors concerned about noise, quality of life and the environment. While the range is proposed on private property, it is a few miles west of the Jay Mountain Wilderness.
Hopmeier said the project is far from “a couple of rednecks playing and blowing holes in a mountain,” but rather 15 to 20 technicians focused on the instrumentation and calibration of military equipment. Benét Laboratories, Hopmeier said, is exploring new ways to manufacture the cannon barrels. The Army has used a chemical called hexavalent chromium to coat the gun barrels and make them last longer, Hopmeier said. But the compound is dangerous, he added, and can cause negative environmental impacts during the cannon’s manufacturing. The lab is experimenting with more “environmentally friendly” coatings, which Hopmeier said he will be testing in the field.
Hopmeier’s application states that the goal of the testing is “to decrease the weight of these systems to ensure the most efficient means of manufacturing and recurring cost of ownership, thereby reducing waste and cost, as well as improving performance,” but in an interview Hopmeier said his focus was validating the gun barrel plating.
“Size, weight and power, all of that is being done, we’re just not involved in that at the test range,” Hopmeier said.
Keith McKeever, spokesman for the APA, said the agency has never reviewed an application for a munitions testing facility before, and the application — for a new commercial use on rural use lands — is incomplete. Hopmeier’s application suggested the site could be ready by the end of July, but now he is hoping to start in a year or so. The cannon testing could go on for several years.
McKeever sent the Explorer the agency’s questions for Hopmeier including whether State Police and the U.S. Department of Justice had issued any necessary approvals. The agency is also looking for a coordinated review with the U.S. Army Development Command and an explanation about why the testing cannot be performed outside of the Adirondack Park.
Some of the information the APA seeks, Hopmeier said in the application records, is considered proprietary or is for the Army to answer. He told the Explorer it would be cost-prohibitive to conduct the testing any further from Watervliet, about 120 miles south of Lewis.
Adirondack Explorer contacted both Benét Laboratories and the U.S. Army’s press office about the project. Timothy Rider, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Army’s Development Command Armaments Center at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, emailed that the current footprint of the Watervliet Arsenal “does not provide the necessary capacity to host such a ballistic testing facility.” Benét Laboratories and U.S. Army Tank and Automotive Command at the Watervliet Arsenal develop and produce large caliber guns, Rider said. The project proposed in the Adirondacks “will support the evaluation of interior ballistics for experimental cannons.”
“It is anticipated that this test capability will shorten the development cycle to prove state of the art technologies and concepts for exploration of future large caliber cannons,” Rider said.
Hopmeier proposed the location near his missile silo site and near the mining operation run by the owners of NYCO Minerals. The landowner, James Pulsifer, has lived in Lewis for his entire 71 years. Pulsifer owns about 2,000 acres, including part of Big Church Mountain, and runs a sawmill.
Hopmeier declined to discuss lease agreement details. Pulsifer said he’s not getting money for the arrangement other than any tax savings that might come from bolstering national security through Hopmeier’s consulting work. He also thinks the project would be good for the community.
“The way I look at it, he’s basically bringing in another bloodline of engineers and people of that caliber,” Pulsifer added. “I don’t want 1,000 people, but 15, 20 families in this area would really be a plus for us.”
Lewis Town Supervisor James Monty, 64, said he is in favor of the research and is also optimistic it would attract jobs. He likes bringing back the military’s historical presence, he said.
“It’s bringing money into the county; it’s bringing money into my little town; it’s providing information and data that can be used in defense of this country,” Monty said.
Not all Lewis residents extend the same welcome, letters to the APA suggest.
Daniel and Lanita Canavan said they were already fed up with the commotion coming from the munitions testing at the missile silo.
“We chose to live in a rural, typically quiet area and do not want the noise to impact our quality of life,” they said.
The Canavans also noted that Church Brook runs through the property and nearby homeowners use wells for drinking water. They worried that the property could become a toxic waste site.
Adriane and Eric Holland, owners of Magic Pines Campground in Lewis, said they were against the test range. Visitors, they said, come to relax and enjoy the quiet and peace of the Adirondacks. They expect that a weapons testing range would disturb guests.
Emma Jean Okusky wrote the APA worried about her water well, her house foundation and the well-being of her dogs and horses.
Hopmeier and Pulsifer are aware of their neighbors’ concerns, but hope some will be alleviated once they learn more about the project. Hopmeier resents comments about turning the area into a toxic waste site, noting his work cleaning up the former missile silo.
Neither Pulsifer nor Hopmeier condones testing explosives on the property, and both stress the infrequent number of cannon fires compared to a backyard shooting range. It can take three to four days to get the cannon into position, Hopmeier said. Since his focus is on what’s happening inside of the cannon, that, too, takes time to analyze.
Hopmeier said there is no need for residents to be concerned about pollution, too, because the projectile in the cannon is made of non-toxic steel. It will be shot across the 330-yard range into crushed stone aggregate from the former NYCO Minerals site called Oak Hill Mine. The system involves a “soft catch,” meaning the missile usually remains intact and gets recovered, as opposed to hitting a hard object to cause an explosion. It’s not difficult to find the 80- to 100-pound slug, Hopmeier added.
There are no wetlands on site, according to the application. The area is already cleared of trees from Pulsifer’s logging operation. There are logging roads to the site. Hopmeier wants to maintain the surrounding forest to keep a real-world military operation feel during his data collection.
Hopmeier referenced sound studies in his APA application that show the Pulsifer’s residence will receive the brunt of the occasional booms outside of the testing site. The noise doesn’t bother Pulsifer. He pointed to the sawmill machinery, trucks and mining operations that are already bustling around him.
Hopmeier plans to alert residents one week in advance of any missile fires, which will occur weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. He will use an alert system similar to that of the local mine, and will notify law enforcement. Hopmeier said blasts will sound like a thunderbolt to most of the other area homes.
Hopmeier said there will always be some neighbors against change, no matter the project.
“I recognize there’s a balance,” he said. “The reason we want to do it here rather than anyplace else is we have all the experience and equipment and capability here.”
My questions would be: What types of sound/percussion mitigation infrastructure could be used? Could the cannon be mounted inside a sound-insulated structure? Could the percussion from the muzzle blast be directed upward instead of outward? Does the projectile break the sound barrier and cause it’s own sonic boom? Would a rock “berm” built up around the cannon be sufficient to mitigate some of the blast noise?
To me, these sound-mitigation should be investigated thoroughly as part of the application process, and be presented to the public and environmental groups in the area since the beautiful Jay Mountain Wilderness is just a stone’s throw away from the proposed site. Firing bans during breeding season may indeed be necessary.
It sounds like they are working on the sound mitigation issue. Not really opposed but why not just do this somewhere in the “middle of nowhere”. There are places out west that you could do this and it wouldn’t bother anyone.
That was my initial thought, but transportation costs are likely the issue. I believe they are thinking Lewis IS the “middle of nowhere”, yet still easily accessible. My thought was something like Fort Drum or an air base where noise is a given. I live across from BTV and in the F-35 flight paths. They are like minutes-long thunderclaps many afternoons while overhead.
Tax revenue for Lewis from housing would be a plus, but it likely wouldn’t be much, if there are only going to be a handful of test-firings every year. Probably just end up being trailers set up on-site used as-needed.
I think it is a reasonable idea, but would want to make sure environmental noise concerns are fully fleshed-out first.
Dan Canavan says
We are responding to the article recently published about the Military cannon test range proposed in Lewis. Many of the community members are of the opinion the article was quite a bit biased in the promoting of this project.
Many residents do have concerns about the potential of quality of life being negatively impacted by the presence of this proposed cannon range located on the east side of the Jay Mountain range.
Despite Mr. Hopmeier resenting our questioning of the possibility of a negative environmental impact and other negative issues associated with this development; many residents of Lewis and others in the Adirondack Park are sensitive to any project or proposal that would negatively impact the Adirondack Park, the environment and our communities. There is a long history of seeking and securing the sanctity and maintaining the quality of this great Park. Whittling away at the aspects of woodlands and wilderness that make this unique park so special is at risk with this type of development. Disrupting the tranquility of a quiet town is of great concern, but especially within the blue line of the Adirondack Park.
In the article community member James Pulsifer was prominently quoted about how the project does not bother him. The facts are that Mr. Pulsifer has benefited financially from the sale of property to Mr. Hopmeier, so I would dare say he is a bit biased about this proposed project. I also suspect that the lease agreement that Mr. Hopmeier did not want to expand on benefits Mr. Pulsifer directly. Correct me if I’m wrong. Again Mr. Pulsifer’s opinion appears to be very biased and does not necessarily represent the opinion of many of the residents. As of the submission of this comment it is our understanding that none of the residents mentioned in the article who have expressed concerns were contacted for the article other than James Pulsifer and Lewis Supervisor James Monty. Florida resident Michael Hopmeier probably will not be directly impacted by this project’s noise or potential negative impact.
Mr. Hopmeier stated that there will always be community members against change. His “vision” of change may not be the right fit for a small community in the Adirondack Park. I’m pretty sure many community members are fine with change while maintaining the ideals of residing in a quiet close knit community. Tourism and small business are always welcome, as well as any business that would not disturb the tranquility of the area. In this case, the potential of a military industrial complex in the Adirondack Park should always require close scrutiny despite Mr. Hopmeier’s, Mr. Monty’s and Mr. Pulsifer’s perspective. It appears Supervisor Monty supports this development. He should not be swayed by the dangling of some carrot of improving the Town of Lewis with this business venture and listen to all concerns the community in which he was chosen to represent present. He is supposed to be representing “We the People” not special business ventures. As I sit here there are only a few people in the community currently benefitting in a major way from this proposed project, specifically Michael Hopmeier and James Pulsifer.
We do not believe this is the right business for this bucolic community located within the blue line. We have more questions and concerns than clear answers at this point. Obviously the noise mitigation and possible ground water contamination are of great concern. All of the residents in the immediate area secure clean water from wells. It is a reality of a potential negative impact on Church Brook which is located on the proposed project property and runs through several property owners lands. It is my understanding that the brook has been identified as having young salmon fry that have worked their way up from the Boquet River. Does the potential noise pollution and runoff from the site impact any other wildlife or breeding cycles?
We ask; is the Adirondack Park really the best place for this type of business venture? There are already other established military bases and shooting ranges in New York and Vermont. Wouldn’t they be better suited locations? 15 to 20 family’s moving to Lewis to work at the site? Even the current missile silo manager and head of security don’t reside in Lewis. However it also sounds like the expanded vision that Mr. Hopmeier has for his project is much bigger than is being currently discussed. This development and future expansion could potentially alter this rural community forever. Would Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Keene, Keene Valley, Jay, Wilmington or any other of the fine town and villages embrace this business venture? It seems at times that politicians and business persons just see dollar signs, that is fine and dandy, but this is in the Adirondack Park and there is the potential for negative change whittling away at the reason the Adirondack Park was established in the first place. We live here for a reason and many of us embrace the nature of a rural life style. Unless we can be convinced otherwise, we do not believe this is the right business for this community located within the blue line. We are just regular folks and this may just be spitting in the wind against big money, big politics and influence. If people care about the the potential negative impact of this project you need to speak up, write letters to the Adirondack Park Agency, show up to Town meetings and let your local representatives know your opinion. This is just not a Lewis Town issue, anyone who does not want to see this type of development in the Adirondack Park should speak out. We would hope that the Adirondack Park Agency, will look long and hard at this proposed project before making such a precedent setting decision.
Dan and Lanita Canavan
Barbara Delaney says
I am also dismayed to read about the application to the APA by Michael Hopmier, a representative of the Florida based Unconventional Concepts Inc, to establish a canon testing range within the Adirondack Park.
This proposed project goes against the mission of the creation of the Adirondack Park, which is to preserve and protect a beautiful natural resource for all. It also could open the door to establishing a dangerous president for other entrepreneurs who do not place a high priority on protecting a valuable resource.
As a long-time Adirondack resident, hiker, paddler and author of books about the history of the Adirondacks–I would encourage the APA to vote against this flimsy
narrow sighted project.
Joan Grabe says
This proposal is just ridiculous ! Unworthy of consideration! This is the Adirondack Park where we celebrate loon hatchings, possible wolf returns, look for moose, eradicate milfoil, wash boats, hike, bike, snow mobile, kayak, etc. And live and work ! No place within the Blue Line for this cannon testing range. Ever !!
So much drama. I see no problem with planned tests.
Anita Estling says
OK “Mike” Hopmeier?
Matt G. says
I live near the US Military Academy at West Point. The Cadets and visiting active units conduct periodic training on Howitzers and other platforms in the hills bordering Harriman State Park. The cannon retorts are loud and the firing is neither long nor incessant. I can understand commentators dismay over this proposal. If this is purely a private venture I’d oppose it too. However if these cannon are being tested for deployment to active duty units of the US armed forces, then a periodic reasonable firing schedule could be worked out despite the understandable NIMBY, as this benefits everyone who would like to see our armed forces well trained and well equipped.
LeRoy Hogan says
What could be worse than missile silos?
Paul B. Thomasset says
Is there any public or private access to the land or air above those acres? If so this proposal will effectively close off any amount of land or air designated as unsafe during testing. I for one would avoid any area that could be accidentally involved. This effectively removes thousands of acres from the Park. As a visitor and financial contributor to the Park this goes against what the Park was conceived for.
The impact of noise and missiles breaking the sound barrier cannot be mitigated in the immediate area of its track. How will this affect the wildlife as it passes through their environment?
LeRoy Hogan says
The test range will be shooting blanks so no big deal.
April Guilder says
I find it interesting that being concerned about the land and homes we were born and raised on might be negatively effected by this experimental testing is call “drama” is sad. We as well are not a bunch of redneck and love our town and care about the environment and the impact this will have on our water/wells/noise/wild animals/homes values/ children. Unless you live in the town of Lewis and are anywhere near this testing site how do you have the right to judge the people that are going to be directly affected. Image it in your back yard. Do you have any idea what it’s like to have Nyco/Imery mining in your back yard already. Imaging what it’s like to have your whole house shack. And know you are putting another place that will be blowing things up. This is suppose to be the Adirondack park and be protected what are people thinking? You cant even carry a gun in the “Adirondack Park” but u can blow stuff up? Money means nothing to people who have worked there whole life to raise there family in a safe clean environment. I can’t believe that the APA would even consider this. And Iam not afraid to post my name I believe in the people of this town and hope that people stand up for what is right and putting this experiment site is a huge mistake for our town.