Board meeting includes two presentations on Camp Grayling expansion
Tue, 09/13/2022 - 2:34pm caleb
Camp commander and concerned citizen speak to commissioners on Thursday, September 8
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The September 8 regular meeting of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners featured a presentation from the Camp Grayling commander regarding the military’s request for additional leased lands for training, and it featured a local citizen speaking in opposition of the proposal.
“The (Michigan Department of Natural Resources) is reviewing a proposal for the expansion of DNR-leased lands available for low impact Camp Grayling military training activities. The proposal for approximately 162,000 acres of land around the camp is part of a desired update to accommodate evolving training methods,” according to the State of Michigan.
The current size of Camp Grayling is approximately 148,000 acres, according to military officials.
“What we’re asking for is to increase training usage in some of the lands surrounding our current training area. We’re asking the DNR director to allow us to simultaneously use those areas as well as the public,” Col. Scott Meyers, Camp Grayling Commander, said during Thursday’s Board of Commissioners meeting.
Col. Meyers said the request is for “up to 162 acres” on a “short-term lease.”
Thomas Barnes, Unit Manager Grayling for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Forest Resources Division, said the “footprint will be smaller” than 162 acres if the DNR director moves the request from the input phase to the parcel review.
“We realize that will be deducted based on the findings of the land analysis by the DNR and some of the things that we’ve already agreed to through the public comment period,” Col. Meyers said.
According to Camp Grayling officials, the military is requesting the additional land access in order to have space for newer types of warfare training.
“The U.S. military has transitioned from training for counter insurgency to training for large-scale combat operations in response to new and emerging global threats. The resultant military readiness training now requires immersive, multi-domain exercises which integrate land, air, maritime, cyber, and space domains over greater distances than those afforded with Camp Grayling’s current size. The newly proposed training areas, if approved, would be used for periodic low impact activities such as drone operation, cyber, electronic warfare, space, and communication system installation and operation,” according to Camp Grayling officials.
“Why are we asking for this land use? Specifically, because the threats of potential enemies have increased, and so what that means is we’re dealing with things today that we didn’t deal with in previous conflicts. Specifically, range and distance of capabilities, so when we looked at the maps we looked at areas that were contiguous to some of our current training areas. We’re trying to figure out how can we get that distance in those trainings to best support our troops,” Col. Meyers said.
“We would not be asking if we didn’t think it was needed,” Col. Meyers said. “We wouldn’t ask if we didn’t think our soldiers, airmen, marines needed this opportunity to best train for the war fight. We think there’s a way to protect the recreation and those things we love about northern Michigan while providing additional access to those who are training.”
Col. Meyers said the training would be “low impact to the environment and to the community” and the access to the additional land would not include new tank trails, “impact areas,” or “firing points.”
“What we’re really asking for is for small units to be able to go out into those lands simultaneously with everybody else who enjoys those lands and get those different distances setting up smaller troop encampments for a day or two, then moving to another area to get that distance and range needed to test those and work those communications systems, those cyber type systems, those electronic warfare type systems,” Col. Meyers said.
“We are not looking at closing any areas for hunting or fishing or access to those areas,” Col. Meyers said. “We listen to the public input, and how do we protect those other interests within the community so we can share those lands simultaneously.”
One commissioner asked about the possibility of use of the land – if the request were to be approved – changing in future years. Col. Meyers said the military would be “constrained” by the lease language with the DNR.
During the public input process for the request, officials have said they’re looking at a 20-year “short-term” lease that would be reviewed annually, but DNR officials have also said the term could be shorter.
“The reason for issuing a lease is based on the amount of time it would take to review the permits annually versus one review for the entire lease period. Use permits generally are only a year in duration, a time period that would not allow the military to plan for future trainings. A shorter lease term is a possibility for consideration, should the process get that far,” according to the DNR’s online FAQ regarding the proposal.
Barnes, during Thursday’s board meeting, said “something shorter than 20” – five years, for example – is possible in order to make sure Camp Grayling “does what it says it will do.” Barnes said the DNR could “void the lease” if the military had a “major break” of the agreement’s provisions. The DNR would maintain “control” of the land, Barnes said.
One commissioner asked about the safety of having military personnel and civilians being on the land at the same time.
Col. Meyers said the training would include things like wheeled vehicles, tents with netting, antennas, troops walking through the woods, and drones, and it would be like “civilian camping with side by sides.”
One commissioner asked about clean-up of the training areas.
Col. Meyers said the military sends teams to clean its current training areas if necessary and that people can call Camp Grayling if they see something that needs cleaned up in its training areas.
One commissioner said it was unfortunate that the request is “causing such division in our community” and asked about constituent concerns such as noise, road damage, environmental issues, negative effects on tourism, and effects of electronic warfare training on humans.
Col. Meyers said Camp Grayling’s current training “has not had a negative effect on tourism.” Col. Meyers said the training area expansion could allow for investment into the area’s trail system and “could improve tourism.”
“I think there will be very minimal impact for recreation,” Col. Meyers said.
Col. Meyers said noise would be “very, very minimal.” Col. Meyers said the electronic warfare aspects would be checked by spectrum analyzers.
One commissioner asked if the expansion is needed in order to protect the country.
“I wouldn’t ask for it if I didn’t think so,” Col. Meyers said.
The September 8 meeting agenda also included a presentation from Frederic Township resident Montgomery Bolis in opposition of the lease request.
Bolis questioned whether the DNR has “authentic oversight” of another state agency since the head of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the director of the Department of Natural Resources are both appointed by the governor. Bolis said Camp Grayling is already the largest National Guard training facility in the country, “underutilizes” its current acreage, and would have use of too much public land in the county if the request were to be approved.
Bolis said the community has already “demonstrated support of Camp Grayling” with its existing “sacrifice of public land” for training, having endured damaged roads, noise, closed access to some areas, and health impacts to humans and pets caused by PFAS contamination.
Bolis asked the Crawford County Board of Commissioners to join boards of other area governments and environmental groups in passing a resolution opposing the proposed land lease.
The Board of Commissioners did not take action on a resolution during the September 8 meeting.