By John Burton |
N.W.S. EARLE — The U.S. Navy has abandoned a plan to rent housing to civilians at Naval Weapons Station Earle, much to the gratitude of area elected officials who strongly opposed it.
The Department of the Navy announced recently it would not move forward with a proposal to open up available military housing units located on Earle’s Colts Neck property.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-4), a Republican whose district includes Colts Neck and Tinton Falls, two communities housing part of the active weapons station, thanked the Navy for its consideration given the concerns raised by area communities. “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 said in a released statement.
“We’re elated that the Navy was responsive to our concerns about maintaining the safety of the Colts Neck, Tinton Falls, and Monmouth County communities,” said state Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11), in a released statement. Beck’s legislative district includes Colts Neck and Tinton Falls.
In the summer of 2016, the Navy announced it was considering allowing civilians unaffiliated with military operations to rent available apartments not needed by military personnel located on the Colts Neck site. The station has 89 family-style units located behind the base’s security fencing. At the time, according to a Navy spokesman, there were 22 mostly three- and four-bedroom units unoccupied. Navy officials were considering renting the units for market rate at approximately $2,400 a month.
According to Bill Addison, public affairs officer for Earle, the Navy conducted a housing markets analysis for for the weapons station in May. “The recent analysis indicated a reduced requirement for on-base housing at the installation,” leading to the Navy’s decision, said Addison.
Elected municipal officials from Colts Neck and Tinton Falls, and a representative from the Tinton Falls Board of Education, along with Smith, Beck and Monmouth County Freeholder Lillian Burry, among others, voiced concern over allowing civilians access to the active military installation and the issues that posed for security. In addition, local officials expressed reservations based upon possible increased school enrollment and the costs associated with it.
“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,” Smith said of the proposal.
Security issues are the biggest concern, Burry told The Two River Times last October. “I don’t know how you can vet people properly, and their guests, and have free movement.”
Beck last year called the Navy’s plan to allow the public access to the installation “a dangerous one.”
N.W.S. Earle encompasses approximately 12,000 acres of Colts Neck, Tinton Falls, Middletown’s Leonardo area, Wall and Howell, from which the U.S. Navy stores and ships ammunition.
The Navy in January agreed to a 60-day freeze to the plan given the onslaught of opposition to it. That freeze held until last week’s decision, with civilian and defense officials continuing to meet and discuss the matter, according to Smith’s office.
“They remained true to their word,” Smith said of the Navy, in a released statement, “and as good neighbors they are taking their own actions to address their excess housing capacity without burdening the community and local taxpayers.”
The on-base housing will remain available to active duty military, retired military and veterans, according to Beck’s office.
However, Addison noted, “Many Navy families take advantage of the opportunities to live in the community, which reduces the need for on-base housing.”
This article was first published in the Nov. 2-9, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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