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Citizens voice pros and cons over proposed GSA training facility at meeting - MyEasternShoreMD: Queen Anne's County

Citizens voice pros and cons over proposed GSA training facility at meeting

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Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 12:00 am

Representative anticipates about 400 full- and part-time jobs will be created

CENTREVILLE Hundreds of people packed the auditorium at Queen Anne's County High School Tuesday evening, Jan. 5, for a meeting where federal government representatives reviewed their plan to build a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in Ruthsburg.

The U.S. General Services Administration and U.S. State Department said the Hunt Ray Farm and Crismer Farm properties, which total about 2,050 acres, is their preferred site for building a huge training center that would have both "hard skills" and "soft skills" training. State Department special agents, security engineers, security technicians and a "limited number" of police and security personnel would be trained at the site, said Jeffrey Culver, director of the diplomatic security service for the State Department.

The site is located on both sides of state Route 481, just south of state Route 304. The project is estimated to cost $105.5 million, and would be funded with $70 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the federal stimulus bill). The State Department wants to partially consolidate the training currently done at 19 sites across the United States at the new facility. The hard-skills training would include indoor and outdoor firing ranges, an explosives range, weapons and explosives storage, three driving tracks and several mock urban environments. The soft-skills portion of the site would include classrooms, simulation labs, administrative offices and a fitness center. Culver said heavy weapons training would not be done at the Ruthsburg site.

The need to train State Department employees who serve at dangerous locations worldwide has increased, "and the future shows no signs of that letting up," said Culver.

Culver said the large training complex "can be a safe and welcome addition to Queen Anne's County."

About 25 citizens asked questions or commented on the project. Many oppose the project. Residents from Ruthsburg and the surrounding area said their rural way of life would be changed for the worse if the federal facility was built. Citizens had concerns about noise, safety and the impact on groundwater, Tuckahoe State Park and the property values of their homes. Increased traffic on local roads and the effect on the already dangerous intersection of U.S. Route 301 and state Route 304 was also mentioned.

At times, citizens' comments were emotional and heated.

Christopher Peoples, a project manager with the architectural and engineering firm KCCT, showed a "site test fit" a drawing of the site on a large screen. The hard-skills training area would be on the Hunt Ray side of the site (west of Route 481, south of Route 304) and the soft- skills training area would be on the Crismer Farm side of the site (east of Route 481, south of Route 304).

"On that map I can see my house," said Anne Eastman of Greenville Road. Her family's farm borders Hunt Ray Farm.

"Would you want this in your neighborhood? Because this is our neighborhood," she said, getting applause from people in the audience.

"It's our intention to find a home for the diplomatic security folks," said Dale Anderson who is the General Services Administration deputy regional commissioner for public buildings service.

A man in the audience shouted, "Is it done or not?"

Anderson said the GSA has not finalized any purchase option agreement on the site.

Ruthsburg area resident Dean Roschy asked if the federal government could build the training complex at a military base or other existing federal facility "and save us taxpayers some money." He suggested Fort. A.P. Hill or Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Anderson said the GSA was unable to find existing federal land that could house a training facility that would meet the mission of the State Department. Culver said training people in a new facility would be more efficient than sharing a facility.

No one is saying the State Department shouldn't build a training center, but citizens are saying the facility "shouldn't happen here," said Sherry Adam of Ruthsburg.

The fact that most people don't want the project, "does that weigh in your decision whatsoever?" asked Robert Mansfield.

Not all citizens spoke against the project. Linda Friday, president of the Queen Anne's County Chamber of Commerce, which supports the project, thanked the federal officials for holding the meeting.

"We need jobs on this Shore," said one man.

"They are handing us jobs for the next three to five years," said Rachel Goss of Kent County.

The U.S. General Services Administration returned Jan. 7 for another public meeting at Queen Anne's County High on the proposed Foreign Affairs Security Training Center. Thursday's meeting wasn't supposed to have a public comment session, but citizens made sure they were heard.

Representatives from the GSA talked briefly about how the project would comply with National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. Easels with charts and maps were set up along the perimeter of the room with technical experts available to answer questions. Unlike the first meeting, this meeting didn't have a sit down public comment session. Instead, people were asked to look at the charts and ask questions as they went from station to station.

Citizens wanted to speak. Some shouted from the audience. Then, one by one, people took turns at the podium. The stenographer recorded their comments. Several people spoke in anger against the project. Others spoke in a more subdued tone, but still expressed opposition to the project itself or the process by which the project was moving ahead. The impromptu public comment session lasted about an hour.

"We're controlling this now," said Michelle Tuttle, a local resident.

"This is our homes, our lives, our investments, our future," said Ruthsburg resident Michael Naumann. "They're all at stake here."

Naumann said the GSA and State Department should upgrade or expand some of the 19 facilities currently being used for training.

David Dunmyer, from the Jarman Branch community, called for a boycott of businesses that support the project.

Jean Higgins said other communities across the United States have closed military bases, and one of them could benefit from having the FASTC built. She also objected to the Jan. 15 deadline for citizens to submit written comments on the environmental assessment being done for the project.

"They want our response by the 15th. Baloney," said Higgins. "Anything good takes a long time to work."

"I'm an ornithologist. I want to know what's going to happen to all the birds and animals," said 9-year-old Danny Lenchner of Queen Anne.

Gina Gilliam, a GSA spokesman, said the intent of the Jan. 7 meeting was to have display boards with information about the project and technical experts on hand to answer people's questions. Gilliam said the GSA will consider all spoken comments people gave at the two meetings plus written comments people wrote on cards collected by the GSA.

The meeting began with an introduction by Gilliam, followed by brief remarks from Katrina Scarpato, GSA regional environmental quality advisor; Christopher Peoples, project manager with KCCT; Tod Hull, project manager with AECOM; and Stephanie Dyer-Carroll, cultural resource specialist with AECOM. AECOM, of Alexandria, Va., is doing the environmental assessment, and the firm is a sub-contractor to KCCT, the architectural and engineering consultant for the project. GSA is the lead agency on procurement and development.

The GSA and State Department announced on Nov. 30 their preferred site for building the training center was two farm properties Hunt Ray Farm (Ashley Farm) and Crismer Farm that total 2,050 acres at state routes 304 and 481 in Ruthsburg. About 10,000 students a year would train at the facility, which would have both "hard skills" and "soft skills" components, including indoor and outdoor firing ranges, driving tracks and classroom instruction. The center would be built in phases and take three to five years to build.

Display board listed the steps in the NEPA process, the NHPA process, a map showing the project site, and a map showing the Area of Potential Effect. The MHPA process involves identifying historic properties and resolving any adverse impacts from the project. The NEPA process will either result in a "finding of no significant impact" or a "notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement."

Some people spoke with the consultants at the display boards. Other people listened to the citizens at the podium.

Centreville area resident Jim Campbell said the Queen Anne's Conservation Association asks that the NEPA comment deadline be extended to Feb. 15.

"This process has not gotten off to a good start," said Campbell. He said having an extremely short comment period is "simply a way of giving lip service to a process and not taking it seriously." He said serious scientific study was intended to be part of the NEPA process.

"I think one week (to submit comments) stinks," said William "Bud" Roe Jr. of Price Station Road.

Centreville resident Andrew Langer said he was astounded at the format GSA chose for the meeting. He said he was also astounded and pleased at the unity of the community.

"We all love our government. We all fear our government," said Langer. He said people all have stories where the government has gone "out of bounds."

"I think our stimulus money would be better spent at (U.S. Route) 301 and (state Route) 304 for the overpass," said Dave Adam of Ruthsburg.

Welcome to the discussion.

Chesterwye State Street

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