PHOTO: Housing at Naval Weapons Station Earle
COLTS NECK, NJ — After nearly one year of negotiations with high-ranking officials of the United States Navy, Rep. Chris Smith (R-4) today announced that the Pentagon has officially cancelled plans to open housing on Naval Weapons Station (NWS) Earle in Colts Neck, thereby alleviating legitimate local concerns about security, and the proper vetting of nonmilitary renters who would be exempt from paying property taxes.
“I want to thank the Navy for the commitment they made nearly a year ago at a meeting in my office to hear our concerns and to conduct their own due diligence in pursuing the issues we raised about security, safety and other impacts their plan could have had on our communities,” said Smith who represents Colts Neck, Tinton Falls and other communities surrounding the base. “They remained true to their word, and as good neighbors they are taking their own actions to address their excess housing capacity without burdening the community and local taxpayer.”
Smith credited former and current Navy officials for their professional approach to community objections to the plan. He said in December 2016, then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Dennis McGinn instituted a 60-day suspension of the housing plan after a meeting in Smith’s Capitol Hill office with Navy officials, Smith, Senator Jennifer Beck and Colts Neck Committeeman Russ Macnow. At that meeting, Smith also presented the concerns of Freeholder Lillian Burry and a detailed letter from Tinton Falls Board of Education President Peter Karavites and Vice President Bill Holobowski.
Smith noted that the 60-day suspension was stretched to nearly one year in which regular discussions continued, the Navy studied the suitability and capacity requirements for housing on the base, and made internal adjustments to attract more military personnel to the units. Some of the changes made by the Navy include offering units to single sailors and offering financial incentives for military families to live on the base.
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“After many months of a detailed review process that included base visits, study and meetings, Steven Iselin, the Acting Assistant Secretary for installations, advised that he and his boss, the new Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, remain mindful of the concerns of the community and have initiated discussions with the housing partner to begin the process of reducing the inventory,” Smith said.
“I am particularly grateful to ASN Iselin and his team, as well as Captain Pierre Fuller, Commander of NWS Earle, and his predecessor Captain Steingold, for their hands-on approach and their decision to put community concerns above a private contract that, in this particular case, has outlived its usefulness,” Smith said.
In an October 2016 letter to McGinn, Smith said the proposal to open up base housing was “fraught with security concerns, as well serious challenges to local systems” such as schools and emergency services. Smith said that given the fact that “our nation has been exposed to numerous national security threats in the homeland since the original signing of the lease agreement — including the planned attack by the Fort Dix Five — it is evident that this type of housing venture is no longer practical and in fact a security risk here at Earle.”
“I want to thank Sen. Beck, Freeholder Burry, Councilman Macnow, Tinton Falls School Board President Karavites and former vice president Hamobowski for working with me from the start as we made the case to the Navy officials,” Smith said. “Ultimately, it was the compelling argument — and the Navy’s responsiveness — that allowed us to avert a proposal that could have generated new dangers and burdens for our communities.
Smith has a long record of fighting for enhanced security and safety at the base. Post 9/11, Smith successfully advocated for increased security and in 2008 NWS Earle was awarded $8.16 million to fortify the installation’s main gate—the construction was completed in 2015.
In 2010, Smith helped lead the fight when the Navy sought to open a different housing community on the base, the Laurelwood Housing Units, to unscreened and unaffiliated civilians. As a result of his advocacy, the Navy eventually abandoned that plan, as well.
In the 2010 battle, Smith said, “Opening the largest munitions depot on the East Coast to the general public and giving unfettered access to the housing inside the base perimeter would create enormous and costly security challenges and other costs, not just to the Navy but the larger community.” Today —seven years later — that same statement stands true.