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Bergman voices opposition to Camp Grayling expansion proposal

Steven Carmody
U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman talks with constituents. (Photo: Steven Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The representative for Michigan’s 1st Congressional District added his voice to a chorus of concern on a proposed expansion to Camp Grayling.

Rep. Jack Bergman’s office sent out a statement Tuesday, with the Watersmeet Republican and veteran asserting his patriotism while calling National Guard’s proposed lease of an additional 162,000 acres of state land, an example of government “overreach.”

“The proposal has yet to be adequately justified, and at a minimum should be right-sized to reflect reality,” Bergman said in the statement. “Given the existing acreage and airspace — particularly the underutilized components — this massive expansion effort has left constituents with more questions than answers.”

The four-term representative called the move a potential strain on the relationship between Grayling and the surrounding communities — and the widespread opposition “a level of agreement is nearly impossible to find today among elected officials.”

Bergman’s statement is the latest shot across the bow, joining more than 30 townships and county boards within the proposed expansion zone that passed resolutions, submitted letters to the state or spoke out in opposition to the expansion.

The Michigan National Guard announced its proposal to lease 162,000 acres of state land in north-central Michigan last year, saying the land would be used for low-impact cyber and electromagnetic warfare training that requires long distances.

Because it’s a Department of Natural Resources lease, the decision ultimately comes down to DNR director Shannon Lott. DNR officials previously said that there’s no set timeline for a decision.

But a number of lawmakers are hoping for more input in the matter, as State Reps. Ken Borton (R-Gaylord), John Roth (R-Interlochen) and Cam Cavitt (R-Cheboygan), along with state Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) sent a letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer asking for a say in the expansion decision.

“I thought it was time to put some pressure on the governor to reach out,” Borton told IPR. “They were unwilling all along to let me know what their stance was on this. And I thought it was time to force their hand.”

While Whitmer has not publicly stated her position, she used an incident from earlier this month when an unidentified object was shot down over Lake Huron to tout Michigan’s military presence.

“When you look at Camp Grayling to Alpena to Battle Creek to Selfridge, we’ve got something to offer that no one else can — four-season training, incredible air space, international air space and water, as well,” Whitmer said. “And I think after what happened (Sunday), maybe strengthens our case.”

But a recent Detroit News investigation pointed out that “low-impact, cyber and electronic warfare training” may not be the only development in Camp Grayling.

According to The News, a former National Guard deputy director asked Attorney General Dana Nessel to investigate a contract to manage private use of the land.

Camp Grayling has opened doors to a total of 16 private companies that have used the land for private research and development in recent years.

The National Guard leaders said the land from the proposed expansion would not be used to expand opportunities for private research and development, but one local resident worries that’s what will happen.

Jim Knight, a trustee for Bear Lake Township and one of several opposition organizers, said he will continue to demand transparency from the Guard and state government, and requested that Paul D. Rogers, a major general in the Michigan Army National Guard, speak publicly on the matter.

“We just want the proposal to stop, it needs to be taken completely off the table,” Knight said. “General Rogers should be coming forward and speaking on this.”

Corrected: February 25, 2023 at 8:43 AM EST
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated how many terms Bergman has spent in the U.S. House. He was first elected in 2017 and is now in his fourth term.
Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.