Background and Challenge

From the early 1900s, the 21,000-acre Massachusetts Military Reservation on Cape Cod served as a hub for operations that were critical to the United States.  But those operations also resulted in the release of solvents, nutrients, and other contaminants into the environment.  By the mid-1980s, it was discovered that these various activities had contaminated Cape Cod’s sole source aquifer for drinking water for more than 200,000 year-round residents.  When a United States Geological Survey hydrogeologist lit a match to a groundwater sample and it caught fire, this discovery ignited intense conflicts about who was responsible, how extensive was the mess, and how and what should be done. After years of debate, Tad McCall, then Secretary of the Air Force for Environmental Protection, stood up at a heated public meeting and apologized for the failed clean-up efforts to date and said: “I will take responsibility for ensuring that the Air Force makes your community whole again.”

The CBI Approach

As part of McCall’s commitment, CBI was asked to work with federal, state, and local officials and citizens to: design a more effective process of engagement and decision-making, facilitate public meetings, mediate inter-agency decision-making, and help communicate with the public throughout the process. CBI led a multi-phase effort aimed at clarifying roles and responsibilities among the deeply divided parties. CBI brought together scientists, environmentalists, town managers, staff and management from the Air Force, Army, state, the Environmental Protection Agency, and more to generate consensus on a strategic plan for cleanup.  CBI then assisted the parties in reaching consensus on modeling for more than 10 groundwater plumes, honing options for cleanup, and mediating negotiations among key agency leaders to make remedial decisions. CBI led countless team meetings, technical workshops, public meetings and workshops, and strategic planning retreats over almost a decade to bring the site to active remediation.


This $750 million, decade-long effort resulted in a new regional water system, tens of thousands of tons of purified soil, and tens of millions of gallons of clean water treated by carbon filtration, powered by newly installed wind turbines. As importantly, CBI helped repair and restore inter-agency relationships, towns and Air Force relations, and helped move the site from conflict to an intensive, highly successful collaboration.