The Maine Army National Guard needed a solution – a lack of available range and training space was creating significant deficiencies in training schedules and forcing units to travel to other states or remain under-trained.
The answer: creating the entirely new Woodville Training Site, a 5,340-acre training area planned and shaped out of the Maine wilderness. The multi-year, comprehensive project was led by Maine ARNG staff, who added a sharp focus on environmental conservation and minimal habitat impacts even as they met the pressing training need. For this exemplary work, the team was recognized with the Secretary of the Army Environmental Award for Natural Resource Conservation for a small installation.
Over the past two years, the environmental staff successfully completed nearly 4,200 pages of permit applications and federal authorization requirements almost entirely in-house, allowing 56 acres of new construction to proceed, to include a light demolition range, small arms range, battalion-sized bivouac/billeting facilities, and over seven miles of roads. The planning also incorporated stewardship and habitat quality, including Northern long-eared bat, Canada lynx, and designated critical habitat for endangered Atlantic salmon.
“We believe this project stands to be an example for the ways that military land use and environmental stewardship go hand in hand,” said Construction and Facilities Maintenance Officer Col. William Dionne. “Active stewardship of the land over the long-term will improve wildlife habitat and forest health. We’re putting in place effective management policies and taking management actions to enhance habitat and training.”
Maine ARNG environmental program manager, Andrew Flint, also pointed to carefully planning construction in order to maintain habitat and water quality as a hallmark of the project, emphasizing the restoration of wetland connectivity, aquifer protection, and the protection and enhancement of already existing quality wetlands, while using other areas with less quality habitat for mission critical training and range activities.
With more than 1,000 acres of wetlands on site, the existing roads intersected wetlands and provided poor access to training lands. Using these roads for intensive military training would have caused ecological harm. The planned development of the training site has unlocked that intersection of roads and wetlands, with seven miles of new roads constructed to incorporate water crossings and open-bottom culverts preferred by wildlife and has returned water to natural channels.
The site now can accommodate battalion-sized training, weapons familiarization and heavy maneuvers. Longer-range plans call for continuing updates to meet mission-critical training needs, weapons qualification, and continued emphasis on environmental and habitat preservation.
Opening the Woodville Training Site for operations this year is even more notable because the training site was not supported by significant budget allocations or financial support for the critical environmental work or construction required to build out the site. By taking on environmental compliance work in house, and limiting use of outside contractors, Maine ARNG staff were able to create costs savings that extended the budget and produced an extraordinary outcome.
“The cost and time savings of in-house permitting and fieldwork projects are enormous. The money that has been saved by in-house environmental compliance work has been redirected to construction and development of the training site resources and kept us on schedule,” said Flint. “This approach saves time as well; revisions, survey and permitting issues inevitably arise in the course of construction, but the environmental staff are now incredibly experienced at managing these issues on their own. This offers the Maine ARNG more flexibility and adaptability than if outside contractors were needed whenever obstacles arose.”
As Maine ARNG continues to operate the training site – which is located within an approximately 16-millon acre swath of forest land -- it will continue to work with environmental, Tribal, and state and federal agencies to maintain the highest level of environmental stewardship. For example, Maine ARNG staff are taking measures to prevent ground water impacts from demolition training and working directly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct necessary tree clearing in the winter, to protect migratory birds and Northern Long Eared Bats, who are not present in the winter.
This ongoing collaboration, as well as all the documentation that comes with a project of this size and scope, are being catalogued as part of a comprehensive repository—a vital resource in maintaining an effective, efficient training site and an environmental conservation model for use of military lands.