The U.S. Navy announced Friday it had started a project to fully enclose the firing range at Greenbury Point in Annapolis.
The Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command in Washington, D.C., awarded a $300,000 contract in August to Georgia-based Raymond Pond Full Service Solutions to design a complete enclosure for the range.
Raymond Pond Full Service Solutions will develop a blueprint to complete the barrier enclosure for the 50-yard firing range to protect those enjoying the conservation area outside it. The designs are expected to be completed by next spring, after which time the Navy will evaluate its options to execute the plan.
The range is only partially surrounded by barriers, creating a risk that stray bullets could strike outside the range. That has prompted the Navy to frequently close the East and West Access roads and a region of the conservation area it refers to as the Surface Danger Zone.
Those roadways will be open to the public just eight days in October, according to Naval Support Activity Annapolis’s Greenbury Point Access Schedule.
The move comes after widespread criticism of the Navy’s attempt to expand so-called “danger zones” and restrict boating around the more than 200-acre peninsula while the rifle range is in use.
High-profile opponents of the expanded danger zones include U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, who sent a letter co-signed by other members of Maryland’s congressional delegation urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carefully evaluate whether the expansion was necessary. Cardin also said in March that he supported seeking more federal funding to secure the firing range.
“Design is the first step to understand the costs associated with this future repair,” Cmdr. Billy Moiles, public works officer at Naval Support Activity Annapolis, the Navy entity that manages Greenbury Point, said in a statement. “We look forward to mitigating the need to maintain a surface danger zone on Greenbury Point.”
For decades, the conservation area has been frequented by nature lovers exploring miles of walking trails throughout the peninsula, which extends into the mouth of the Severn River.
“This design supports an end state that allows us to complete our training mission with less frequent closures to the access roads,” Capt. Chris Schwarz, commanding officer of NSAA, said in a statement.
Conservation advocates say their concerns about the rifle range extend beyond worries about road closures restricting public access. The Severn River Commission, an advisory board convened by Anne Arundel County government, maintains that the firing range has long been a potential environmental hazard.
“The rifle range has been in use for over 100 years and is estimated to have had millions of rounds of lead-containing munitions,” the commission wrote in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year. The eight-member board also noted the target shooting area is out-of-compliance with several Environmental Protection Agency best practices for rifle ranges.
The commission called on the Navy to “harden its existing facility to eliminate hazards to people on land or water.”
Tensions between the military and public over how to best use Greenbury Point date back decades. While some have advocated for the area to remain as undeveloped as possible to protect wildlife and the health of the Chesapeake Bay, others have competing goals for the property.
In 2018, the NSA Annapolis Installation Development Plan included a Greenbury Point RV Park for the Navy Recreational Lodging Program. Congressional approval for the 35-pad RV park at Possum Point is expected by December, with contractors submitting bids early next year.
Even more controversial is a 2022 proposal from Chet Gladchuk, president of the Naval Academy Golf Association, to build a second golf course near an 18-hole course on Greenbury Point. Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman then requested a long-term lease on that property to use as a conservation site. The competing unsolicited proposals rendered the Navy unable to entertain either request, Naval District Washington spokesperson Ed Zeigler said in August 2022.
The drama is far from over, however. In June, the Naval Academy alumni magazine, Shipmate, shared news that Jerry Miller, a wealthy alumnus from the Class of 1977, had engaged the firm of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus to design another 18 holes at Greenbury Point, whether the Navy was ready to build the course or not.
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For Sue Steinbrook, co-founder of the Save Greenbury Point grassroots conservation group, news that the rifle range could become fully enclosed is positive in the short-term as it could make way for more access to hiking trails, but she fears the long-term implications of the decision.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” she said. “But I’m nervous because is it paving the way for future golfers, too?”
The golf course design announcement helped spur action from Cardin, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes. The trio of Democrats have come out in support of keeping as much of the peninsula public as possible. Language inserted into the Senate version of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act would require the secretary of the Navy to submit a report to Congress describing “the manner in which such access will be modified or restricted” before a federal law is enacted permitting those changes.
Van Hollen’s office says that provision, should it survive the reconciliation process with the House version of the act, would prevent a second golf course or other major changes restricting public access at Greenbury Point.