Over $65 million was tentatively allocated for the water treatment plant at Hadnot Point, a section of the military base that includes a medical clinic and various third-party stores, the Defense Department said in its proposal.
The project is expected to replace a water treatment plant with a 8-million-gallon-per-day water treatment facility that complies with safety regulations, according to US Navy budget estimates sent to Congress in 2017.
“This facility is required to provide an adequate and environmentally compliant supply of potable water to meet the domestic, industrial, and fire protection requirements of Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune,” the Navy said.
The plan was proposed after the Hadnot Point community was found to have increased its water usage, which comes from the same water system used for Camp Lejeune. The increased water usage contributed towards a contamination comprised of salt water that “cannot be reversed,” according to the Navy.
“The Marine Corps will face certain high risk liabilities with continued use of antiquated water treatment plant technology,” the Navy warned.
The Navy did propose other alternatives to a new water treatment plant, including repairs to its older system and individual upgrades, but deemed it was more cost-effective to construct a new facility.
“Camp Lejeune will continue to face rising maintenance and operational costs necessary to run the antiquated water treatment plants,” the Navy said in its proposal.
“Environmental compliance will be compromised as it becomes more difficult to maintain the water quality required to comply with present and future Safe Drinking Water Act regulations.”
It is unclear why, despite the initial request from the Navy, that funding for the project was shelved. Camp Lejeune was one of the military installations hit by Hurricane Florence in 2018, and the cost to replace some of its buildings was estimated to be around $3.6 billion.
The base was previously embroiled in controversy when up to 900,000 service members and families stationed at the base were found to have been exposed to contaminated water between 1953 and 1987, the Associated Press reported.
“If you served at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune …, you may have had contact with contaminants in the drinking water there,” the Department of Veterans Affairs says on its website. “Scientific and medical evidence has shown an association between exposure to these contaminants during military service and development of certain diseases later on.”
Former Camp Lejeune service members who are later diagnosed with various diseases — including leukemia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple myeloma — may be eligible for disability benefits.
In January, the Navy denied over 4,400 claims worth an estimated $963 billion. Defense officials cited several legal statutes for their decision, including a 10-year statute of limitations and a Supreme Court ruling that relieves the US of liability if service members are injured on duty.
The water contamination scandal has since been engrained in the military’s culture, which may raise the project’s necessity in light of potential budget cuts.
“The optics of deferring this project could likely be a public relations disaster not just for the Marine Corps, but the Defense Department in general because of the past history at Camp Lejeune and water contamination,” Dan Grazier, a military fellow at Project on Government Oversight, said to INSIDER.
In declaring his national emergency, Trump would divert $3.6 billion from unused military projects towards funding for the controversial border barrier. Trump justified the decision by claiming the US was being flooded “with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs” across the southern border.
After Democrats and 12 Republicans passed a resolution opposing him in the Senate, Trump used his first presidential veto to force the proposal forward last week. The House and the Senate are likely to fall short of the required two-thirds majorities to override his veto.
The Defense Department made clear that its list of project affected was not final. It added that “no military housing, barracks, or dormitory projects will be impacted” by the diverted funding.
But Democratic lawmakers voiced concerns over the possibility and railed against what some view as a “medieval vanity project.”
“President Trump is putting his border wall ahead of the safety of our troops,” Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said in a statement to INSIDER. “The projects that could lose funding include military training centers in Virginia, a plant to prevent water contamination at Camp Lejeune, and a cybersecurity facility in Georgia.”
“I hope my colleagues in Congress will take a serious look at the projects that support our military in their own states and then vote to override the President’s veto,” Kaine said.
“What President Trump is doing is a slap in the face to our military that makes our border and the country less secure,” Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, added in a statement.