BANGOR, Maine — Within the next decade, if all goes according to plan, members of the Maine Army National Guard won’t have to leave the state for large training and shooting exercises.
The Guard is the process of acquiring up to 6,000 acres of land in Woodville and Township 2 Range 9 in Penobscot County for use as a training facility, Col. Dwaine Drummond said in a recent interview.
So far, 3,700 acres have been purchased, and Guard officials are talking with other landowners in the area who might be interested in selling.
“Six thousand acres sounds huge, but when you have 300 or 400 people with equipment on it, it gets much smaller,” Drummond said.
As it stands — especially when it comes to weapons training — Maine Army Guard members have to travel to bases in Massachusetts and Vermont and in some cases, New Brunswick, Drummond said.
The result is a loss of training time, in some cases as much as a day, and increased costs for fuel, food and lodging, he said.
“We don’t get additional money [for fuel and other travel costs] because we don’t have a training facility here,” Drummond said.
The $3 million being used for the land purchases is part of a $14 million bond issue approved by Maine voters in November 2013. So far, the Guard has used $1.2 million of the money set aside for land, according to a fact sheet the Guard provided about the project.
Future uses for the site may include land navigation, tactical formations, convoy operations, medical evacuations, communications training, general purpose maneuver space and range operations, the fact sheet said.
“We’re really very early on in the process, so we don’t have a plan on paper as to what will be where,” Drummond said.
“That land really is to offset a deficit that we have, primarily in maneuver space,” he said.
“We don’t have, in Maine, what I would call a large training area. Most of our training areas are really only large enough for training for one company at a time, which is 100 to 120 soldiers. But we have battalions which are often three to five companies, so we don’t really have any place for battalions to train together,” he said.
Another problem is that the Army Guard lacks an adequate firing range. It has ranges in Auburn and Limestone, but neither is being used because both require significant repairs and rebuilding for safety reasons, he said.
“It really puts us at a disadvantage as far as readiness goes for our soldiers,” Drummond said.
Drummond said that the training site being planned likely won’t have much in the way of buildings. There may be space for storage, and there likely will be a well.
“For one reason, at this time we don’t intend to have any kind of full time presence there, so we don’t generally build a lot of stuff and leave it out there unmanned, unprotected,” he said.
Before any major work is done at the site, the Guard will have a feasibility study done to see what can be placed on the land based on its terrain and if a firing range is developed, how it could be oriented to take advantage of the terrain while minimizing the amount of noise that leaves the property.
An environmental assessment also needs to be done, Drummond said. That process will include a public comment period and the assessment’s findings will be made public.
The project will require permitting by the Maine Department of Environment Protection and possibly a zone change.
Once those tasks are completed, some of the first orders of business will be to build access roads and parking areas, Drummond said.
Drummond estimated that it will take between five and 10 years for the project to be fully developed.