UPDATED: EPA Tells FORA to Man the Fort, Threatens to Close off Public Access
July 11, 2012
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has instructed the Fort Ord Reuse Authority to crack down on trespassing on the former Fort Ord, and threatening to cut off public access entirely if recreationists don't stick to designated trails.
"Continued access to former Fort Ord property depends on the willingness of everyone to accept the established restrictions, to respect posted signs and warnings," Michael Montgomery, EPA's assistant director of the Superfund Division, wrote in a July 10 letter to Michael Houlemard, executive director of FORA.
FORA officials are blaming a handful of activists for an act of civil disobedience what could mark the end of public access for years.
Montgomery described a June 24 trespass by members of Keep Fort Ord Wild in which veterans and advocates for habitat and recreation preservation on Fort Ord hung a sign declaring an area "Soldiers Memorial Field."
The activists were actually under the new name, Veterans Wild Ford Ord, and hung a 12-foot-wide sign, pulled weeds, hauled out trash and graded an old track.
The Parker Flats turf, near the trailhead on 8th Avenue and Gigling Road in Marina, is off-limits to the public until EPA signs off on munitions cleanup. No one was injured.
"Although EPA understands that FORA was not involved in this unlawful and dangerous activity, it is FORA's obligation…to maintain and enforce the activity restrictions set forth in the federal deed," Montgomery wrote.
"The actions of a few overzealous people is endangering access for all of the rest of us," FORA Assistant Executive Officer Steve Endsley says. "[EPA] is saying to the community as a whole, 'Get your act together or we may have to require some stronger measures.'
"It’s not just your friendly neighborhood planning agency you’re dealing with now, but the federal government."
Gordon Smith, a Vietnam veteran who made the sign and organized the action, writes by email, FORA created a mountain out of a molehill here and the subsequent EPA repercussions may come back and bite FORA in the butt."
EPA learned of the alleged trespass from FORA officials, but Smith says FORA mistook Veterans Wild Fort Ord for Keep Fort Ord Wild, which is a plaintiff in a civil suit against FORA. "It appears that FORA thought they had an opportunity to make KFOW look bad," Smith writes. "At this point FORA owes KFOW a retraction if not an apology for bringing KFOW’s good name into this issue."
EPA spokesperson Mary Simms declined an interview, but writes by email, "It's important that members of the public adhere to posted signs and do not trespass onto restricted areas. These important access restrictions are safety measures that have been put in place for public safety. We will work with the community and FORA in an outreach effort, if necessary, so that everyone understands and complies with the posted restrictions."
As far as security and trespassing enforcement, Endsley says Arcadis, under contract with FORA, provides those services to the degree they're required.
But by and large the public is responsive to access restrictions on Fort Ord, Endsley adds. "Ninety-nine percent of the people who use the Fort Ord back country are doing it in a responsible manner," he says. "We work with the community, and it’s been very cooperative."
Smith maintains he was the only individual who violated a posted trespassing sign. "The veterans did not enter a restricted ordnance cleanup zone," he says. "FORA is actually the party to blame for this whole trespassing issue because they did not have any 'Danger Warning—No Trespassing' signs in the area."