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letter regarding this news article
The writer, Sherry Adam, who was there and is mentioned in the article
thinks BOBBY MCMAHON omitted some very important facts.
QA's Residents Witness Blasts At FASTC Demo
By BOBBY MCMAHON Staff Writer
March 28, 2010 - The Star Democrat
Area residents listen for an explosion during a "Blast Acoustics Demonstration" run by the State Department and General Services Administration on Wednesday, March 24. The demonstration, held at and near a U.S. Army facility in La Plata, featured explosions that would be similar to what residents would hear coming from the proposed Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in Ruthsburg. PHOTO BY BOBBY MCMAHON
LA PLATA "They're preparing the charges now. We'll let you know when they're ready to go off."
In a small field, the group waits, many with arms crossed. Most stare straight ahead at a line of trees and in the unseeable distance toward a spot three miles away.
It's March 24and State Department and General Services Administration (GSA) officials have taken area residents to La Plata for a "blast acoustics demonstration." The field trip is meant to give residents a sense of how loud explosions could be at the proposed Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Ruthsburg, but at the end of the day, there will be little that's definitive about the explosions they hear.
The group makes quiet small talk. A voice comes over the walkie-talkie:
"Standby for the half pound shot."
A car passes the field, then another and when the voice on the walkie-talkie says "half-pound shot complete" there's a sense that the group has missed it. But then it came a sound like distant thunder on a humid summer night.
"There it is" one person says.
"Yeah, you've got three miles for it to travel" said Chuck Raderstorf, project director for the FASTC for the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
The group is told to standby for the 3-pound charge, and when the walkie-talkie squawks "3-pound charge complete" everyone now knows to wait through the delay. This time the thunder is louder, as if the storm is getting closer. The explosion wasn't louder than the cars passing but many remark that it was louder than they thought it'd be.
"This concludes our demonstration" Raderstorf said. The group files back on the bus.
About 15 residents from Ruthsburg and the surrounding area, most of whom have spoken out publicly against the site, boarded the bus Wednesday morning at the Ruthsburg Community Center. Besides residents, four State Department and GSA staffers as well as a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Frank KratovilD-Md.-1sttake the bus from Ruthsburg, and the group stops at a Starbucks in La Plata to pick up a staffer from the office of U.S. Sen. Ben CardinD-Md.and several more government officials and consultants.
The residents and the government officials are split in the bus, with the officials at the front and the residents in the middle and back. There's little interaction or conversation between the two groups during the trip, except when a State Department staffer passes out large pretzels that one of the other officials brought from Philadelphia.
The group's destination is the U.S. Army Garrison Blossom Point Research Facility, a 1600 acre site open since 1942. Upon arrival, the bus passes through an imposing-looking metal gate and winds its way through woods on paved and dirt roads out into the middle of a field where the demonstration will take place.
After the group files off the busRaderstorf explains the demonstration: officials have selected nine different explosions that will occur at the proposed FASTCincluding flash bangs, detonating cord, Pentolite and C4. The descriptions read so specific that it's fairly easy to imagine what they'll demonstrate to the diplomats who'd train at FASTC.
"Six (6) feet, 300 grains Net Explosive Weight (N.E.W.) detonating cord in a spiral loop, letter bomb configuration" the description for 'Shot #3' reads on the materials distributed to the residents. "A 6' length is prepared in a tight spiral loop and placed/taped on a makeshift "desk" consisting of ½" plywood on a platform raise 3' above ground level, an electric detonator is attached."
Raderstorf said the explosives will be detonated at three distances from the group 0.6 miles (the distance from the small explosives pad on the project's updated layout to the closest house), 0.78 miles (the distance from the large explosives pad to the closest house) and three miles away (the distance from the large explosives pad to Adkins Arboretum). The actual pad where the explosions are taking place is obscured, so the residents will only hear but never see the explosions.
Raderstorf also explains that there's to be no smoking, no leaving the dirt road and no picking up of anything while the group is outside the bus.
"This is an active area" he says.
Before each detonationRaderstorf announces the type of explosive and confirms to the unknown man on the other end of the walkie-talkie that the group is ready. Officials also signal to several people in the distance who are measuring the decibel readings for each explosion.
With the wind at their backs, the group waits at the first "listening post" (0.6 miles away). The explosions, ranging in size from 2 ounces of black power to a half-pound cast booster of Pentolite, start to come at this distance, none sound larger than a firework on the Fourth of July, although several in the group worry aloud about how loud the explosions are.
The group moves farther down the range to the second listening post (0.78 miles away)where they hear the largest explosives the State Department said they will use at the site. These are 1-2- and 3-pound charges of C4 submerged in five gallons of water, and Raderstrof explains that they are called "disruption charges" meant to detonate other explosives.
Even though the group is farther back, the volume difference in the detonations is noticeable. Again, although none sounded larger than fireworks, many in the group commented on how loud the explosions were.
It's important to mention that these demonstrations (and the above descriptions of them) cannot provide a definitive statement on how loud the explosions would or could be at FASTC. Beyond the fact that determining how the volume of something without scientific instruments is quite subjective (the GSA denied requests to provide decibel readings from the demonstrationsaying that they would be included in the Environmental Assessment), officials noted that a myriad of variables affect the perceived volume of any explosion for better or worse, including atmospheric conditions, topography and the mitigation techniques the State Department plans to use at the site.
"What you heard today may well be completely different" Raderstorf said.
This fact was disconcerting to many in the groupas they worried that the wind blowing toward the explosions and away from the group (as well as an earthen berm between the group and the explosion) lowered the volume. Several asked to move closer to the explosionso they could feel the larger impact of what the detonations could do.
Back on the bus the group traveled to the third listening post in the small field off the facility, a distance of three miles away from where the detonations took place. After that was completethe nearly two-hour trip back to Ruthsburg began.
Just as with the ride to La Plata, there was little interaction between government officials and area residents on the ride back. While conversations touched on FASTC and the explosions, others discussed weddings, talked on cell phones or took naps.
On the bus ride back, Sherry Adam, a Ruthsburg resident who has been outspoken in her opposition to the project, said the explosions were louder than she had expected them to be.
"I was surprised it was as loud as it was, especially at three miles" Adam said. "It was too loud."
While Adam said she had an open mind about the project (otherwise she wouldn't have gone on the trip she said)she said that the information from government officials has not alleviated her concerns.
Dave Adam, Sherry's husband chimed in from the seat across from her, saying that the explosions are only one concern that area residents have. There's also the drive-and-shoot tracks (which are close to the Adam family's home), the shooting ranges and the larger effects on Tuckahoe State Park and traffic.
"It's the whole thing", Adam said.
As the bus neared the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bay Bridge, Ellyn Goldkind, a project manager for the State Department said this demonstration was important because it give those residents closest to the proposed site a chance to experience the explosions first hand. She said that the majority of people in the area would never get as close to the explosions as the group did today, adding that these types of demonstrations are highly unusual for government projects.
"This goes above and beyond what would normally be done," Goldkind said.
Goldkind emphasized that the explosions, as done today, would be "exactly the way they'd do them in a training course," and these and other efforts are part of their attempts to be a good neighbor during the roll out of this project.
As she talks, there's no mention of trying to change anyone's mind about the project, and no government officials during the day could be heard lobbying to the residents to think differently about FASTC. The goal, they said was simply to demonstrate the explosions to the residents.
In her view, Sherry Adam believes that there's little the government could do to change her mind about the project. More meetings won't help, she said, and even if they removed all the "hard skills" aspects - the explosions, the shooting ranges, etc. - she's not sure she'd support it.
"They've done all they can do, I think," she said.
Be sure to read Sherry Adam's letter regarding this news article