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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.

ruthsburg.jpgHundreds 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."

By Aaron C. Davis  |  June 28, 2010; 4:38 PM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis  
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Mr Davis, you need to get your facts straight.

There aren't even hundreds of residents IN Ruthsburg.

Those opposed to the site were a very loud, vitriolic bunch, but numbered less than 100, and even less if you only count those who were even registered to vote.

Mikulski and the other elected officials pulled the "we were for it before we were against it" footwork that we have all come to know and love from our pols.

I would also like to know the source of the un-cited quote beginning with "The little bombs scheduled to go off ..." because literally every statement in that quote is false propaganda that anyone who had READ the GSA proposal would know to be false propaganda.

And most importantly, a VAST majority (2/3, or to say it differently, 2:1) of voters supported the site.

--An actual QA resident

Posted by: MiuBot116 | June 30, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Ah, excuse me Mr. Davis, I do apologize. You cited yourself. With no basis for your statements made in the original article.

Or did the original article run in the "Opinions" section?

Or does WaPo just allow its writers to editorialize freely now?

Posted by: MiuBot116 | June 30, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Step-by-step recap:

1. Local officials lobby for, and Government decides to spend stimulus money in QA county. Most are very pleased.

2. Local officials are approached by a small group of individuals (Queen Annes Conservation Association) who lobby stop any and all economic growth in the area (excepting sprawling housing developments... of course).

3. QACA storms a county commissioners meeting, brandishing irrelevant documents (they were SURE it was the government lying to them... which was false... of course) and spreading lies and propaganda to motivate their no-growth cause. They tell residents of Ruthsburg that the government is building a large scale weapons facility, firing RPG's and They tell them the walls will be falling down around them. Tanks, biological weapons, nighttime raids, you name it. They tell them planes will fly sorties over their land. QACA DISTRIBUTES A PROPAGANDA DVD where they tour a completely different training facility where all the things they claimed were to happen in MD were actually happening. They succeeded in convincing the residents of Ruthsburg that an orange was an apple.

4. Local officials crawl into their caves, shrivel up, and bow to a misinformed minority. Polls are conducted in the county that show majority support, with MORE support once the individual was EDUCATED about the facility. Officials still backed down. They demand the government come and hold everyone's hand while giving them "real" information. "Transparency!" was shouted, as it is the political buzzword du jour.

5. State Department puts on several open meetings. (I was in attendance) The real information doesn't match the doomsayers' information. 90% of the malicious rumors are dispelled. The minority opposition either a) doesn't believe it or b) just creates new falsehoods to base their ire. A PROPOGANDA FILM IS CREATED. NO JOKE. They sold it, tax free, to these misinformed residents to continue to gin them up with lies.

6. QACA informs the State Department that they will continually file pointless lawsuits against them until they leave.

7. State Department decides to not spend taxpayer dollars on non-stimulus, frivolous lawsuits - and takes our money and jobs elsewhere.

8. Local officials trumpet that the system worked. BS. The system failed. Good information was thrown out for the bad. Leadership was NONEXISTENT. Political waffling was rampant.

8. QACA, now facing the economic results of their actions is quickly backtracking. Because a majority, including the business associations of the area, are Pee-Ohed.

That about cover it? A special interest group, with a minority backing, strong-arms local and state officials into doing whatever they want, using lies and propaganda.


Posted by: trident420 | July 1, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

@ Trident -- that is about how it went down.

I was also at those open meetings.

I can promise you that no politician who kowtowed to QA"C"A will ever get my vote.


Posted by: MiuBot116 | July 1, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

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