Plan for civilian housing at Naval Weapons Station Earle meets resistance
COLTS NECK — Local officials continued to push back against a plan to allow civilians to live on base at Naval Weapons Station Earle during a meeting in Colts Neck Tuesday night.
State Sen. Jenn Beck, R-Monmouth, said the pushback against this plan started in September of last year when it was announced that developers intended to use a "waterfall provision" in their contract to fill vacant housing on the base.
The security of Earle, which provides ammunition and bombs to military personnel all over the world, is too important to keep secure to allow non-military residents inside its gates on a full-time basis, according to Beck and others. If the plan went through, Beck said residents and their guests would be required to undergo background checks.
While opponents have focused on security concerns, officials also have cited financial worries. Beck and Tinton Falls Mayor Gerald Turning said families moving onto the base would mean increased enrollment in local school districts, which would receive no school tax revenue from the base.
Since the issue was brought up Beck, developer Balfour Beatty has gone through one full cycle of finding military tenants for the housing, and is in the middle of a second set which is scheduled to be completed next month. First priority to fill the vacancies goes to active personnel, retirees, veterans and then employees of the Department of Defense before civilians would be considered.
In October, Beck said she and others met with the developer who "laughed us off with concerns over security." She said they were told the company was losing money and wanted to recoup that through the civilian clause if needed, and that "our concerns about safety were misplaced."
On the base's website, a note about the meeting says that Balfour has owned and managed housing on the base since 2004 as part of a Public Private Venture.
While the practice of renting housing to civilians is commonplace at other military installations, Beck said there are reasons why people choose not to live on base, just as there are reasons why civilians should not be allowed to live there. She said because of the considerable size of the base, and the lack of facilities for those who live there, many choose to live in the surrounding towns rather than utilizing the base's housing.
"Last night was really to inform the general public about the facts, what the plan is, where we are, and make sure we're educated," Beck said. "This is a dangerous proposal by all measures and we are going to fight it."
Beck estimated that more than 160 people attended Tuesday's meeting and said it showed how important it is to all the surrounding towns. "For the people of Monmouth County this is a serious, serious issue."
In recent years the base has worked to increase security at the main gate, and Beck noted that an earlier proposed plan to build housing near the base was shot down because of security concerns. "This is even worse. This isn't next to the base. This is on the base," she said.
Bill Addison, spokesman for the base, said they were aware the meeting was happening but did not send representatives to take part.
"This is something that happens across the entire Department of Defense," he said. "It exists at almost every military installation. It's new to us because it's something Balfour Beatty is pushing for."
Calls to Balfour Beatty were not answered.
Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com