OpEd: Amending a Mass Historical Commission / US Navy Agreement re the NWIRP on Hartwell Hill

July 14, 2020

Submitted by Don Corey

I was surprised to read the Bedford Citizen article about the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant (NWIRP) letter that I forwarded to the Town Manager, and I believe that a better understanding of the issue is needed. This is an amendment to an existing agreement between the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) and the Navy under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

For reasons that are unclear, the NWIRP property was considered to meet the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Click to read the Massachusetts Historical Commission letter of July 28, 2017.

Any proposed changes became subject to Section 106 of NHPA. MHC administers that program in MA, and it routinely either notifies respective municipal historical commissions on such projects or requires the property owners to do so, in order to get comments and/or approval.

Bedford’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) subsequently received a letter from the Navy proposing to demolish the buildings (including the old Components Lab) within the northern tract of NWIRP  Click to read the US Navy letter of 08 June 2018, Page 1 and Page 2. The Navy’s proposed mitigation of the changes was to perform historic research and to provide a detailed history of the facility.

After a discussion and unanimous vote, the HPC responded with a letter concurring with the Navy’s proposed actions.  Click to read the HPC Letter of July 12, 2018. The truly historic buildings at NWIRP – the original hangar and associated facilities – were all demolished years before when it first appeared on the Federal Hazardous Waste Superfund Site list. Town Manager Rick Reed and the Board of Selectmen were copied on that correspondence.

The Agreement allows the demolition of the buildings subject to that mitigation, which the Navy has completed. The proposed amendment to the Agreement is to simply amend it so that the Navy or subsequent grantee may demolish the buildings. In addition, the Ammunition Bunker (Bldg 16) was erroneously omitted from the original Agreement and has been inserted.

The only issue under consideration is whether to allow the Navy or subsequent grantee to demolish the buildings.  This is almost certainly based on the Navy’s experience in selling the South Flight Test Area last year when the GSA received an extremely handsome price even with an abandoned hangar still occupying that property. The [site on Hartwell Hill] is a more desirable piece of property, and they clearly wish to sell it without the cost and delay of the demolition of abandoned buildings.

I hope this helps.

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