Smith Announces Settlement on Navy Earle Housing
Smith: Saga Closes on Navy Plans for Public Housing on Earle Weapons Station
Congressman Chris Smith today announced the U.S. Navy has settled with the Laurelwood private housing contractor at Naval Weapons Station Earle, effectively closing the door to a controversial plan that would have allowed non-military, unvetted civilians access to military housing inside the base, a scenario Smith said would have posed a “a huge security risk” to the Navy and the local community.
“I’m pleased to announce that the Navy has settled with the private contractor avoiding the significant security and local tax burdens that would have resulted if the Earle Laurelwood housing complex was opened to unvetted civilians," Smith (NJ-04) said today. “This is the final chapter of a very bad idea. I thank the Navy and the contractor both for reaching terms that keeps a major U.S. Naval facility secure and protects Monmouth residents.
“The final agreement forecloses what could have been a catastrophic chapter in the relationship between Earle and its neighbors. It is a soft landing that enables all to move forward without creating new security threats or new transportation, educational or environmental burdens for local taxpayers,” Smith said.
Earlier this year, in what Smith called the turning point in the fight to stop the housing plan, the Navy suspended its record of decision (ROD) for Laurelwood. Smith said that decision cleared the way for the settlement and enabled the Navy to reach a mutually acceptable agreement for the federal government, local communities and the private developer which currently owns and runs the nearly vacant housing.
Legislation written by Smith and passed by Congress in October 2009 required the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the U.S. Navy’s proposal and its impact on security at the base and on surrounding communities, as well as the monetary burdens local communities and taxpayers would face as a result of the plan.
Smith's amendment directed the Comptroller General to provide full cost estimates for the impact on local communities—including impact costs in the areas of security, education, transportation, environment—resulting from the proposal, and determine the costs of proposed security measures to the Department of Defense.” The amendment was adopted as part of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647), and signed into law in October 2009. The Navy had only included limited cost estimates that it would incur when it issued its ROD in 2009, but failed to take into account any cost estimates to other federal agencies, state and local governments or taxpayers in the surrounding areas. The Navy, however, opted to suspend the ROD before the GAO could issue its report, which might have confirmed significant negative aspects regarding the Navy’s plan.
Smith teamed up with municipal, county, state and federal officials and area residents to work together to stop the Navy’s plan. Joining the effort were 12th Legislative District Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon, Sen. Jennifer Beck and Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande—who authored and passed legislation that would have required additional oversight by state authorities—Monmouth County Freeholder Lillian Burry of Colts Neck and other Colts Neck and Tinton Falls officials and members of Neighbors Opposed to Privatization at Earle, or NOPE.
“The unity of the local community and their officials has made the difference in this fight,” Smith said. “Naval Weapons Station Earle’s security will remain intact against terrorism threats that could have been created by the housing proposal, and the local residents will not be saddled with the resulting costs of education, environmental and transportation. The Navy has decided to continue to be a good neighbor, as it has long been.”
In the late 1980s Navy officials entered into a Section 801 Housing agreement to build 300 privatized homes on Earle in exchange for payment to the developer (estimated now to be $3.5 million a year) regardless of occupancy. Because the Navy reduced its personnel at Earle since the agreement was signed, there are currently fewer than 10 Navy families who live in Laurelwood.