Unless you’ve driven down Route 3 and seen the little sign with the little letters announcing its presence, you’ve probably never known that the Army’s 1205th Transportation Railway Operating Battalion has its base in Middletown. Quite apart from this installation, the U.S. Army also wants to make Middletown the home of a new centralized training base to take the place of various bases that are closing, or have closed, across Connecticut.
Due to its centralized location and available tracts of land, the city apparently makes a terrific spot. But the local media makes it seem as if it may be otherwise. Says the Hartford Courant:
A proposal to build a 200,000-square-foot Army training center on 40 acres of open space in Middletown is prompting concern among some residents.
Well, that’s natural. Any time something that big wants to plop itself down on a tract of city land, someone’s going to have an opinion. And in this case, plenty of people do. From the Army to the mayor, rural residents to environmentalists, local business interests, and everyone in between, the Army base is arousing passions across the city.
According to Ed McKeon of Caterwauled (relevant entries here and here), the Army is looking at a wooded area in the south of the city, along Saybrook Road, known as Maromas. The Russell Library has a webpage about Maromas, calling it a “sparsely settled district” on the banks of “the Connecticut River in the southeastern section of Middletown.”
McKeon himself doesn’t seem too pleased with the proposed development:
It would be a convenient way to open the Saybrook Road corridor to commercial development. The Middlesex Chamber of Commerce is apparently very interested in this possibility, and so, is supporting the idea of the Army Training Base. But take a ride to Groton, and examine the kind of commercial interests which spring up around such a site – bars, liquor stores, convenience stores, gas stations, chain restaurants, dollar stores. Is this the kind of development Middletown wants? And is Saybrook Road where we want it to exist?
And Middletown residents are already debating the Army’s plans on the online discussion boards. Even the New York Times has gotten in on the action, chronicling the base development from the viewpoint of residents of the Maromas section of town:
A few months ago, when Wesleyan University announced that it would create 10 scholarships to encourage military veterans to study here, school officials and students talked of welcoming them with open arms.
A few weeks later, when the Army Corps of Engineers began inspecting land a few miles away from the Wesleyan campus to build a new, 200,000-square-foot regional training center for reservists, the spirit was not so warm.
The Army’s plans call for the new base in Middletown, aiming to “enhance military value, improve homeland defense capability, greatly improve training and deployment capability, create significant efficiencies and cost savings, and [further] the Army’s Force Structure Plans and Army transformational objectives.” And according to the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission, Middletown will be the host of the base, whether it likes it or not. So the only question is, where do we put it?
A lot of issues exist here, not least the character of Middletown’s rural sections and the environmental concerns posed by wiping out a large section of the city’s remaining forests. And as McKeon points out, the economic development that the base would bring might not be as beneficial as the local business community thinks. But as Major Giuliano was quoted in the Times, “You don’t want to say no to the Army.”
As part-time residents of Middletown, what do you think about the military’s plans to locate the base here? What power does the Planning and Zoning Committee, on which Matt Lesser ’09 sits, have in influencing the Army? And is it even the place of Wesleyan to have a voice in this proposed development?
EDIT: Right of Middle also mentions the base development and points out that there is a meeting at City Hall tomorrow (Monday, January 14) at 5:00 PM to discuss the Army’s plans. If you’re interested and on campus, you may want to check it out.
Photo by Master Sgt. Michael L. Lachman; courtesy of the U.S. Army.