EPA and FORA Threaten Ft. Ord Wildland Users with Collective Punishment

When Ft. Ord recreation is outlawed, only outlaws will recreate at Ft. Ord

Rather than cracking down on the Keep Fort Ord Wild (KFOW) activists they accuse of trespassing, the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA), borrowing its political strategy from the jelly donut scene in Full Metal Jacket, is threatening to punish thousands of other Ft. Ord wildland users by “cutting off public access” to Ft. Ord “entirely.”

The basic story is familiar to anyone who follows the local press …

Some veterans cleaned up an old exercise track near Gigling and 8th Ave. on the former Fort Ord, and hung up a sign proclaiming the place “Soldiers Memorial Field,” in honor of the common soldier. FORA, no doubt irritated by people making a shrine of land slated for development, and seeing what looked like an opportunity to score some PR points against their enemies at KFOW (at least one of the vets is also a KFOW activist), immediately started having kittens about how awful it was that KFOW was trespassing in a closed area full of unexploded munitions, how people could have been killed, etc.

Then FORA ran out and put up a bunch of new No Trespassing and Unexploded Ordnance Warning signs around the place, complained about KFOW’s trespassing to the EPA, and managed to elicit an EPA letter apparently threatening to “cut off public access entirely if recreationists don’t stick to designated trails.” Unlike many documents, which have to be dragged out of FORA with lawsuits, this letter was posted prominently on their website and gleefully shopped around to the media; together with a bunch of rhetoric about the “actions of a few” endangering access for “rest of us” and so forth.

New signs hastily placed by FORA following the vets’ action

This leaves the inquiring minds at Xasáuan Today wondering about a couple of things:

1) If FORA and the EPA really intend to “cut off public access entirely,” punishing thousands of Ft. Ord recreational users (and the local businesses that serve them) for the actions of a few, and limiting Ft. Ord recreation to scofflaws only, how, exactly will they do that? They can’t very well close the BLM land, which isn’t under their jurisdiction, and the land they do control, according to the maps on their website, is already entirely closed to the public (with the exception of a few roads that provide access to other areas – and they can’t very well close those).

Then we actually read the EPA letter and found that when it gets down to specifics, all they’re really threatening to close are “trails.” If anyone knows of any trail on FORA controlled land that FORA currently considers to be open, please let us know. We couldn’t find any on their map. Maybe what FORA means is that they’ll start actually putting up signs and kicking people off the many already “officially” closed trails on FORA lands that have been seeing heavy public use for almost 20 years without a problem. We don’t see what else it could possibly mean.

A heavily used trail leaves a designated parking area for Ft. Ord backcountry users and heads off onto officially closed FORA land. Not a No Trespassing or Unexploded Ordnance warning sign to be seen. In the 5 minutes we were there today, we saw 5 cyclists and 3 hikers start up this trail – just as they’ve been doing for nearly 20 years. Will FORA’s effort at collective punishment mean attempting actual closure of trails like this one?

2) How is it that the old track cleaned up by the veterans came to be considered a hazardous unexploded ordnance area? The vets tell us the track was in use by soldiers right up to the closing of Ft. Ord, and we can say from extensive personal mountain biking and botanizing experience that, in contrast to actual munitions impact areas (which have always been carefully signed and even fenced), the track and surrounding areas were very much open to the public right after Ft. Ord closed – and remained open and heavily used for many years thereafter. The army, in fact, retained title to the property until 2007, and seems to have seen no problem with public use.

In 2007, the property was transferred to FORA and became, officially anyway, “closed,” although heavy public use appears to have continued without any effort on the part of FORA to stop it. Then, in 2009, the property was, no doubt at considerable public expense, actually swept for unexploded munitions. Yet, three years later, it still remains officially closed.

So, at some point, did someone realize that a terrible mistake had been made and that the area really did somehow contain unexploded ordnance that had been endangering the public all along without anyone noticing it? And, if so, why didn’t they put up real warning signs or make any serious effort to get the public out of harms way?

Or did someone, at some point, realize that clearing ordnance, especially in places that don’t actually contain it, is pretty lucrative and get the “hazard” areas creatively expanded?

Or what?

And why, if it’s already been swept, is it still considered hazardous? If it’s just a matter of finishing the paperwork, as some have suggested, why all the histrionics about the danger the vets were subjecting themselves to?

If FORA has answers to these questions, it sure would be nice if they’d share them with the public. Otherwise, it’s going to be difficult to convince people that the real reason the area is closed doesn’t have something to do with the fact that it’s the site of the proposed Monterey Downs luxury horse park development and traversed by the controversial Eastside Parkway.*

Coast live oaks (quercus agrifolia) in the path of the Eastside Parkway are marked to be cut. The veterans’ track can be seen in the background.

Eastwood’s Golden Fleece or Goldenbush (Ericameria fasciculata), a very rare plant that grows ONLY in northern Monterey County and only in limited numbers – some of which have the misfortune of growing in the way of the Eastside Parkway. Click here to learn more about the remarkable Alice Eastwood, for whom the plant is named. You’ll be glad you did.

Walkers stroll along the veterans’ newly cleared track after passing FORA’s new warning signs without apparent concern. The hillside and trees in the background are slated to fall to the Eastside Parkway. The track itself lies in the area proposed for the Monterey Downs development. It would be safe to say that FORA’s claims of unexploded ordnance hazards here lack credibility with the public.

* “Parkway” is a technical land use planning term. It refers to any sufficiently controversial freeway or other large road proposed in a pristine and environmentally sensitive area (e.g. “Hatton Canyon Parkway”). See also “Golf Trail.”

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17 Responses to EPA and FORA Threaten Ft. Ord Wildland Users with Collective Punishment

  1. charles vanbenschoten says:

    bravo, i’m glad someone has the balls to print what i have been saying all along. keep up the good work!

  2. Bill Weigle says:

    I hope you will send this excellent article as a Guest Commentary to the Herald, Weekly, and Californian. Also please note that it was not Keep Fort Ord Wild (KFOW) that was responsible for the cleaning up of the track and placing of the sign, it was a relatively new group of veterans calling themselves Veterans for a Wild Fort Ord (VWFO).

    Bill Weigle (KFOW)

  3. gordon smith says:

    Great article, One correction, FORA has spread far and wide, the misinformation that this was an effort by the group KEEP FORT ORD WILD (KFOW) when in fact it was the veterans group VETERANS WILD FORT ORD (VWFO).

    FORA who has been severely damaged over the past six months by continuing lawsuits filed by KFOW and has been running around in a vindictive mood against KFOW ever since… as a result a FORA staffer overly eager to get brownie points from the bosses fired off a letter to the EPA slamming KFOW. Only problem is the KFOW had nothing what-so-ever to do with the veterans cleanup work at the Soldiers Memorial Field – that was the work of the VETERANS WILD FORT ORD group. A group I started with other veterans outside of my membership in KFOW. Let it be known that I am also a member of the organization called SONS OF NORWAY. I guess if FORA would have had the same contempt for the SONS OF NORWAY too, then the veterans work could just as easily been blamed on the SONS OF NORWAY because I am one of their members.

    Did I say previously “the only problem is”? Well, actually there are several problems with the accounts FORA (mis)stated to the EPA in their alarmist letter. FORA has done a fantastic job of twisting the facts regarding who is the villain vs who is the victim. Not unlike how FORA’s accountant’s attempt to get the Carmel traffic cop fired for issuing a moving violation ticket to FORA’s CEO Michael Houlemarde, only trouble for FORA in that case was the cop had video evidence of Houlemarde blowing through the stop sign.

    In this instance FORA is again blaming others instead of accepting their own mistakes or failures. FORA is in the wrong for either one of two reasons…well actually they are guilty of two…well… probably many more than I can cite here:

    1) FORA contends the veterans trespassed past DANGER EXPLOSIVE WARNING signs, however there have been no such sign in place in the area for several years, well that is to say not until 13 days after the veterans hanged the SOLDIERS MEMORIAL FIELD sign and when FORA’s subcontractor Arcadis placed 5 brand new shining ones on the site.

    2) FORA contends to the EPA that the former Army exercise field is dangerously laden with unexploded ordnance of which the veterans foolishly risked live and limb by trespassing on the field, but truth be told, the field was scraped to bare earth by explosive- removing heavy equipment. As in the incident with the Carmel cop, pictures saved the day for truth and justice, and in the present case photos taken in 2009 prove the SOLDIERS MEMORIAL FIELD was ordnance mediated three years ago.

    -Gordon Smith, Veterans Wild Fort Ord AND Sons of Norway

  4. gordon smith says:

    BTW, if FORA or the EPA are reading this blog and my comments to it, myself and other veterans ask that we be prosecuted to the full extend of the law for having the jelly donut in our footlocker instead of punishing all the other recreational users of the Fort Ord wildlands.
    -Gordon Smith, Vietnam 1970-71, Fort Ord hiker since 1994

  5. David says:

    Thanks for the article.
    Glad this is getting its undue share of publicity.

    It helps me understand how out of control FORA is when they try to blast ants with an elephant gun.

    Course its possible FORA and the Army want to divert attention from their mismanagement because their so-called “cleanup” is a half a Billion dollar fraud according to the California EPA’s advisory group.

    “Fort Ord Military Base’s Ongoing and Potentially Permanent Toxic Cleanup Tragedy”

    http://1hope.org/hopeblog/fort-ords-toxic-cleanup-tragedy/

    Another good and alarming read.

  6. Luana says:

    Anyone who may be peeved at the KEEP OUT DANGER signs better get used to Access Denied. When Parker Flats trees, trails, and habitat is covered by Dave Potter’s twisted scheme of a freeway to gambling “racinos” and mini-mansions, the tune will change from “This land is your land” to
    “if you ain’t got the do re mi, folks, you ain’t got the do re mi,
    Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.
    California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see;
    But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot
    If you ain’t got the do re mi.”

    Get used to it or get active.

  7. great write up! the whole thing is ridiculous.

    Devo

  8. Sound Works LTD says:

    Amazing how many people I have spoken to have no idea what may happen to Ft. Ord. Can’t get enough press out there to stop this ridiculous plan.

  9. Papa G says:

    Mostly good stuff. I think that the part that I would correct is that the EPA, FORA/ESCA is not looking to shut down all of Fort Ord down to recreation. They cannot and a blanket statement like that might be looked at as alarmist. They are only looking at the lands that are under their control…control being a loose term in light of this article. The only trails that are “open” are those that groups have a right of entry permit to use. These are the folks that are going to take a hit from the actions of G-Dog and a few other folks. It is what it is…a jelly donut. As a user of these trails…with permit secured…I have known that the area in question has been signed closed for several years. In fact, when FORA decided that they were going to start enforcing their “no trespassing” a few years ago, several groups banded together to let them know that they needed to keep access open to the recreational users that had been using the trails near 8th & G. FORT Friends began and have been advocating for the users since.

    All this to say that I know that the system is broken, but trespassing and flaunting it does not make the land manager happy enough to let you keep doing it. I also see that the system in place is difficult, at best, to enforce. I do not know the answer to this dilema, but I know that recent activity has endangered MY right of entry to the flowing trails near 8th & G.

  10. gordonsmith says:

    Papa G,

    I find it VERY interesting that you have been given a “right to entry” when I asked for such an access right (or pass, or permit) from the FORA land manager last March,of which I was denied one with the explanation that: “access permits are not issued to individuals, only to groups.”

    I failed to see the fairness (or equal rights) in that denial since I have hiked extensively out in the ESCA woods since 1994 and have been (along with my late dog Toby) well known to many FORA, BRAC and BLM employees for years.

    The question which arises from your current posting is: Did FORA ever have the legal right to issue you or any other recreational users access permits to areas which they have claimed all along are dangerous to the public?

    The issue of legal “access rights”to anyone is a larger issue which supersedes the other issues of favoritism, elitist privilege and simple inconsistencies in agency policy enforcement.

  11. Papa G says:

    Gordon,

    I, too, find it interesting that a group can gain access via permit and not an individual. My understanding is that a group that has liability insurance can get a permit. So, if you are a group without insurance, you are out of luck. It would follow suit that if you are an individual without liability insurance, waivers, ID card and other such requirements, you are persona non grata on the FORA/ESCA trails. It is easier to be able to vote as a non-citizen than it is to get a permit to the property…

    The fairness issue is totally subjective. If a group wants access and meets the requirements in order to do so, then they should be able to do so. An individual permit system would be seriously too much of a time suck to deal with and even more difficult to enforce. Do you see anyone there to enforce the permits now? It might be that there are too many agencies that are confused about who is allowed and who is not…too much confusion.

    I argue that I have a right to enter under permit, and you should, too. What I think is right does not carry water with the policy and is thus null and void…Bottom line, MY right to enter is still in danger of being revoked.

  12. Bill Weigle says:

    In response to Papa G’s comments, if access to these trails is a safety issue as FORA has claimed, then why is anyone allowed access whether or not a member of a ‘special’ group. Frankly, such privileges being granted smacks of a ploy to gain your acceptance of their future development plans.

    Also, anyone who is aware of what the development plans for that area are must realize that no matter how privileged yours and other groups may be now, you will lose access to those lands around Parker Flats if the planned developments (Monterey Downs, East Side Road, Inter-Garrison Business Park, etc.) come to fruition.

    So I encourage you and all others who have received these temporary dispensations to enjoy your privileged position while it lasts AND simultaneously and vigorously support the maintenance of the Parker Flats land as open recreational space available to all in perpetuity.

    We need the same groundswell of support for preserving this land for ALL to enjoy that we have had for the MST/Whispering Oaks project. It can be done; however, it will require the awareness and uncompromising support of all of us, especially those who now benefit from recreating on this land regularly such as you.

  13. Papa G says:

    Bill-Our group uses our ROE to let people know that these trails/lands are in danger. There is no better way to get people involved than showing them what is a stake! With that, I take offense that you feel that by playing by the rules you are automatically siding with or for development. I know that you are passionate regarding these lands, but so am I!

    BTW-The trails that we use are the ones that have been declared safe…but not open to the public due to liability issues. We also had to mark the trails and are required to have a leader and a sweeper at to make sure that no one is wandering off the beaten path or lost.

  14. gordonsmith says:

    Papa G,

    I am glad WE are all having this civil conversation in spite of the fact that ESCA/FORA has blasted much false information to many user groups and government agencies by using several blind emailing (Bcc) to divide and conquer all of us who use and love the Fort Ord wildlands; e.g. “the actions of a few will ruin it for many others…”

    Back on topic:

    Having insurance seems pointless if the land is supposedly laden with explosives. I cannot believe any insurance company could possibly write a policy for the assumed risk of cycling in a mine field! Nor could FORA approve such a policy???

    Doesn’t “Closed to the public” mean closed to the public? Or can FORA have their cake and eat it too?

    Does your insurance policy cite that ESCA/FORA insists to the EPA that the Soldiers Memorial Field is closed to the public due to possible unexploded ordnance?

    Or is it written specifically because the Soldiers Memorial Field and the trails have been declared safe?

    If so ,is the EPA aware of this, and…then what is the purpose of having insurance?

    Is it to hold FORA harmless and not liable if someone crashes their mountain bike on an ESCA trail?

    So are we talking insurance policies covering bodily injury from Army explosive ordnance …or civilian bicycle collisions on trails with bodily injury?

    Can I get a copy of your insurance policy?

  15. Papa G says:

    Gordon,

    Our insurance is to cover accidents on the trail and not being blown up;) The insurance is tied directly to the permit and names FORA/ESCA. Not sure who holds the insurance certificate, so I cannot offer it to you.

  16. Alexandra Walling says:

    Thank you for posting this. Yesterday (July 31st) I was told by a worker for the FORA that I would be ticketed and/or arrested if I walked the Soldier’s Memorial Field again.

    That FORA expects the public to believe that a patch of land used by the army for PT is full of unexploded munitions or other hazards, despite decades of heavy use, beggars belief. It is the kind of mean-spirited small-mindedness which only bureaucrats seem capable of.

  17. gordonsmith says:

    There seems to be a double standard here.

    John Hutcherson and his wife Cindy were given verbal permission to walk the SMF track by the FORA land manager.

    The Hutcherson’s walk the SMF track every morning with their dogs and have done so in the presence of ESCA/Arcadis employees and Western (EOD) employees since the field was dedicated last month and have never been told to discontinue their use of the Soldiers Memorial Field.

    It is clearly time for FORA to specifically state what ordnance they realistically believe is out in the SMF. Does anyone believe that EXPLOSIVE REMEDIATION is actually happening in real time at the SMF? If so, are these people and their equipment invisible?

    Alexandra please contact me at: g.d.smith@comcast.net

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