|Citizens ready to fight
State Dept. training center in QA
By KONRAD SUROWIEC Staff
RUTHSBURG About 100 citizens who came to the Ruthsburg Community Center on Dec. 17 were advised to contact Queen Anne's County, state and federal officials to ask questions and express comments on the plan by the federal government to build a large facility in Ruthsburg that would serve as a training center for security personnel assigned to U.S. embassies.
Centreville resident Sveinn Storm and William "Bud" Roe, of Roe Crossroads, organized the meeting for Ruthsburg area residents in Queen Anne's County and nearby areas of Caroline County. They discussed their efforts to obtain information about the project, why government officials should be more forthcoming about the project, and why it is important for citizens to get involved.
Bob Mueller, of RCM Mediation Services, served as moderator. Mueller recently served as mediator for the meetings held by Queen Anne's County's Blue Ribbon Panel on Smart Growth and Rural Development.
More than 20 citizens asked questions and made comments at the Ruthsburg meeting. There was strong sentiment against the project. Citizens are worried about several things, including the impact on a rural community, land and water resources, and increased traffic on state Route 304 and the already dangerous intersection of Route 304 and U.S. Route 301.
"We need a full-court press to stop it," said Storm. "Do we have time? Yes we do."
Storm and Roe criticized the Queen Anne's County Commissioners and elected officials at the state and federal level for advocating for the project before citizens found out about the plan. A petition was written that asks officials at the county, state and federal levels to stop all decision-making on the project until government officials present complete information about the project to citizens.
Those who have expressed support for the project have included U.S. Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Md.1st; U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both D-Md.; the Queen Anne's County Commissioners; the Queen Anne's County Chamber of Commerce and the Queen Anne's County Economic Development Commission. Supporters say the project would provide construction jobs and help small businesses in a depressed economy.
Queen Anne's County staff first learned of the project Aug. 20 and the county commissioners discussed the project at their Sept. 8 meeting. At that point, the Hunt Ray Farm property was one of about five sites being considered by the U.S. General Services Administration and the U.S. State Department to build a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center that would consolidate operations currently done at 19 sites.
On Nov. 30, the GSA and the State Department announced that Hunt Ray Farm was their preferred site, and the GSA was negotiating with the property owner to buy about 2,000 acres. The GSA plans to hold a public meeting about the project, but a specific date hasn't been set. The Hunt Ray Farm (Ashley Farm) is located at state routes 304 (Ruthsburg Road) and 481 (Damsontown Road).
Route 304 "is a dangerous road as it is. What's going to happen there?" asked John Altfather, a Ruthsburg Road resident.
If the State Department needs a site close to Washington, D.C., why doesn't it build the facility at an existing military base, like Quantico or Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, asked Ruthsburg resident Tom Dotson. He said he's not anti-military, having served 14 years in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. He said the project's impact on the air and water and the potential for having a large area of unexploded ordnance needs to be considered.
One citizen asked if the county commissioners have the ability to stop the project, or if it would require a higher level of government to stop it. Storm said the commissioners could support citizens in trying to stop the project.
When his family wants to put an irrigation rig on their chicken farm, they have to go through all kinds of governmental hoops to get it approved, said Chris Higgs.
"They (federal agencies) should have gone through a process" just like the Higgs family had to, said Roe.
Dave Bramble said he doesn't want to listen to explosions from a nearby security training center. He said it would disrupt the community and people's lives.
"The farming community is not ready for this. We need to preserve agriculture, not hard core tactical facilities, here," said Dave Bramble, who got applause from members of the audience.
The project would likely take years to build because many studies would be required, said Gary Kaufman, of Ruthsburg, who has 20 years experience in the U.S. Air Force and seven years in the private sector as a contracting officer.
"It's a long, drawn out process," said Kaufman.
Centreville area resident Jim Campbell, a volunteer with Queen Anne's Conservation Association, said the project would be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, which would require the federal government to look at alternatives.
Copies of a petition were available at the meeting which calls for citizens of Queen Anne's, Caroline and neighboring counties to establish a Ruthsburg Vigilance Committee to monitor developments, inform the public and take other action necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens.
The petition states the "preferred site" for the hard skills security training center raises serious issues under federal laws and policies; and it raises serious issues of local and regional concern, including "noise and light impacts from weapons firing, high-speed driving, and helicopter traffic; requirements for additional public services (roads, schools, emergency services); safety issues related to surveillance detection exercises in county urban areas; extent and nature of local employment opportunities; environmental issues relating to conversion of protected open space, wetlands and forests; and effects on stability of the agricultural economy."
The petition calls on government at all levels to promptly present complete information to citizens about the training center and the process by which Ruthsburg became the preferred site, and to "cease and desist from further decision-making on the center until citizens have been informed and given an opportunity to be heard."
Storm said the organization Citizens for Greater Centreville has been putting information on its Web site about the project as soon it becomes available.