Feds kill terrorism training site on Eastern Shore
Controversial plans to construct one of the nation's largest and busiest anti-terrorism training facilities in a quiet corner of Maryland's Eastern Shore are dead, leaving neighbors and environmentalists giddy and members of Maryland's congressional delegation who initially supported building it scrambling to explain why they're okay with it crumbling, too.
A letter out today from General Services Administrator Martha Johnson confirms that federal officials have given up on the site.
Hundreds of residents in and around the town of Ruthsburg, about 30 miles east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, had strongly opposed construction of the site. They said the planned explosions, racetrack and traffic from thousands of trainees on their way to protect embassies and other State Department facilities would have fundamentally altered the character of the little town near Centreville. A group of residents had filed suit and claimed that the State Department and federal procurement officials had altered their selection criteria to make the tract of Ruthsburg's farmland the government's preferred site. Republicans in Congress had also recently targeted the plan, which called for spending some $70 million in stimulus funding to buy the land and get the project started, as a waste of money.
The letter from Johnson says a preliminary GSA analysis showed that "among other potential concerns, there would be a significant change in land use and considerable noise and traffic impacts."
As we reported this year, residents didn't object to the "400 jobs that might come from a new State Department facility funded with stimulus money. It's just that they're not really into the noise and commotion that would come from the simulated chases, machine-gun fire and bomb blasts.
"The little bombs scheduled to go off nine or 10 times a week in Ruthsburg would be a nuisance, and the bigger ones detonated every few weeks could be more of a headache. But it's the three-pounders that have residents in a panic. They're convinced that it'll amount to mini-earthquakes, shaking pictures off walls and slowly tearing apart a historical landmark -- not to mention scaring the bejesus out of their children, chickens and horses."
The site would have housed training facilities for the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, which employs 35,000 people and guards everyone from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to U.S. athletes performing overseas.
State Department officials say the current system of shuffling thousands of trainees around 19 rented sites from Virginia to California is a logistical nightmare. State Department officials still maintain that a fixed, permanent site is needed as the service expands, and it's believed that they are now reconsidering a runner-up site in West Virginia.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), one of several Maryland lawmakers who had worked to bring the site to Maryland and who then backed away when federal officials responded poorly to neighbors' concerns and local opposition grew, was first to distribute news of GSA's decision. Mikulski said she had "fought hard for this process to work and for the voices of the residents of Queen Anne's County to be heard." She added that she still believes a State Department facility "is critical to our national security and cannot be delayed indefinitely."
"Today, GSA is announcing that it is withdrawing from the Ruthsburg site. I haven't always been happy with the process, but in this case it worked. I have spoken to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to GSA to make sure alternative Maryland sites that are a better fit ... are given full and fair consideration."
U.S. Rep. Frank Kratovil (D), another early backer of the plan, also couched his response: "Although I'm disappointed that Maryland's First Congressional District has lost out on this economic opportunity, I've been informed that a number of substantive concerns raised during the Environmental Assessment have rendered the Queen Anne's County site unworkable," he said. "I have advocated throughout this debate for a full and fair process to ensure that this decision be made using the best information available. While I would have preferred that the full environmental review be made public before a final decision was announced, I am nonetheless grateful to all of the citizens who made their voices heard throughout the process."
Aaron C. Davis
June 28, 2010; 4:38 PM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis
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