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JTF2 set to expand Ottawa base
Commando unit will double in size by 2005 at Dwyer Hill; vows no increase in noise level
David Pugliese
The Ottawa Citizen

The Canadian Forces has decided against moving its controversial and secretive commando installation from Ottawa to Petawawa, and will instead began full-scale expansion of the base at its present Dwyer Hill location.

Military officials believe they can expand the Dwyer Hill base over the next five to 20 years without an increase in the noise or activity at the rural Ottawa site, according to documents obtained by the Citizen. The base is home to the 300-member Joint Task Force 2 commando unit, which is expected to double in size by 2005.

"The recommendations were accepted that (Dywer Hill) is the optimal location for that facility," said Canadian Forces spokesman Maj. James Simiana. "Some people have tried to suggest moving it to Petawawa," he added. "I don't think that's a question anymore."

What exactly will happen with the expansion is being kept a closely guarded secret because of JTF2's involvement in counterterrorism operations.

Both military officials and area residents have raised concerns about the presence of JTF2 at Dywer Hill. In the mid-1990s some JTF2 officers noted that their base, a former horse-breeding farm, was too small and that it might make sense to relocate. There have also been recent warnings from military officials that the installation's septic system cannot handle a large number of soldiers operating from the compound.

Dwyer Hill residents are concerned about pollution from the base. One of the installation's ranges is heavily contaminated with lead and has been shut down for safety reasons. In 1999, more than 1,200 litres of fuel oil contained in storage tanks at the JTF2 facility leaked into the ground. The cleanup cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

The Town of Petawawa had been trying to convince Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Defence Minister John McCallum to move JTF2 to CFB Petawawa. Its officials had argued that Petawawa has the room and equipment already in place to support the counter-terrorism unit.

But a military analysis, completed in January, determined that the Canadian Forces have too much invested in the Dwyer Hill installation. Any move would also disrupt the lives of JTF2 members and their families, it noted. Ottawa offers good access to housing as well as medical and dental care for the families. Employment and education opportunities for JTF2 soldiers' spouses and children are also considered excellent in the capital.

For operational reasons, it was deemed important to have the unit at Dwyer Hill because of the proximity to embassies and key government buildings. Dwyer Hill is also close to the Ottawa airport, in case JTF2 has to quickly fly to other parts of the country, according to the report.

Moving the base from Dwyer Hill was also opposed by Nepean-Carleton Liberal MP David Pratt, who is chairman of the Commons committee that recommended the JTF2 expansion. Mr. Pratt has argued that the unit must remain where it is so it can respond to terrorist incidents in Ottawa.

To expand its base, JTF2 must now acquire new land, and has set its sights on a farm next door owned by Ron Mayhew.

The military began looking at expropriating Mr. Mayhew's property last year after he declined the Defence department's $125,000 offer for his 36 hectares of land.

The farmer has countered with a proposal to turn over his land to JTF2 if the department can provide him with similar acreage in the area. The Defence department has not acted on Mr. Mayhew's proposal.

"The military keeps saying that I'm greedy, that I'm out to make a lot of money from my land," said Mr. Mayhew. "Well, I don't think you can get any fairer than the trade I've proposed."

Defence department officials have also acknowledged that work crews from the JTF2 base damaged Mr. Mayhew's land. They recommended in 1999 that he be compensated for that, but that was never done.

Mr. Mayhew said he has waited long enough and will soon begin repairing the damage himself so he can start planting crops.

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