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QA residents clash at FASTC forum 
By BOBBY MCMAHON Special from The Star Democrat 
Posted: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 12:22 pm | Updated: 9:30 am, Wed Mar 3, 2010.

Joyce Fitzpatrick (pictured at left) of Grasonville asks a question to federal officials during a public forum on the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center project on Feb. 23. Fitzpatrick asked if the county and government officials could hold a ballot referendum and allow citizens to vote on whether or not the wanted the site. 

CENTREVILLE Queen Anne's County citizens clashed again at a public forum Feb. 23 over the controversial Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC).

The forum, held at Queen Anne's County High School, was the second of two public forums on the training site proposed to be built near state Routes 304 and 481.

While government officials had little new to say about the site (presentations were largely the same as those given Feb. 16), opponents once again showed up in full force. Andrew Eastman of Centreville said it was important for them to attend the meeting to make sure their voice was heard and their side was represented.

"We're going to keep badgering and badgering until we get our questions answered," Eastman said.

Supporters of the project also made their presence known, appearing in numbers that had not been seen at previous meetings on the project.

Proponents, including Jim Luff, chairman of the county's Economic Development Commission, Linda Friday, president of the Queen Anne's County Chamber of Commerce, Camille O'Donnell of Business Queen Anne's and others from the business community said before and during the meeting that the facility would bring economic development and tax revenue to the area at a time when it is sorely needed.

"I support FASTC because of the significant economic opportunities it brings the entire region, now and into the future," said Steve Donovan of Title One & Associates during the meeting.

David Metrinko, chairman of the Queen Anne's County Chamber of Commerce and a business owner in Centreville, brought signatures from hundreds of Queen Anne's County residents who support the project. In reference to recent threats to boycott area business for their support, Metrinko said his presence showed that proponents would not be silenced.

"As a business owner, and as a representative of the Queen Anne's County Chamber, the businesses in the county will not be bullied to disagree with this project," Metrinko said. "If we believe in it, we believe in it for a reason."

Metrinko also touched on the unease he felt many citizens had about speaking out in favor of the project.

"There are many, many, many people in this county not just business owners but citizens that are afraid to come to this meeting and voice their opinion in support of this project ...," he said.

But as Metrinko was finishing that sentence, FASTC opponents shouted back, indicating that those concerns may have been justified.

"Good!" one said. "With good reason!" said another.

Metrinko continued, saying "So, I am here tonight to hopefully show them that you can come here and you can voice your opinion for this project and have nothing to worry about."

On the other side, FASTC opponents offered questions to government officials, touching on issues of noise and potential environmental impacts. Beyond individual issues, though, a fair number of questions focused on the belief that the facility's existence alone would be disruptive to residents' way of life.

Trippe Callahan of Centreville told officials that the project was "a large square peg ... that you're trying to put into a very small round hole." He argued that strong efforts to lessen its affects on the surrounding area were evidence to residents that the project was not a good fit.

"That says to us that this isn't the most suitable place for this project," Callahan said. "There are a lot of problems that you have to avoid, minimize and mitigate."

Sveinn Storm, who distributed a dozen large pig balloons before the meeting (in reference to the argument that the site was government "pork"), told officials that residents were livid over the treatment they had received.

"There has never been an indication from you ... that this would go away, that the will of the people would be followed," Storm said. "This is exactly, in a lot of our minds, the kind of treatment that people in Russia and China and Iran would run into, and we're puzzled that we're running into it here."

Throughout the question and answer period, officials said many questions on the potential environmental and economic affects would be answered in the forthcoming draft environmental assessment, which will pull together studies on numerous issues with public comments made during the process.

The deadline for public comments is March 12, and officials said the assessment would be published in late March or early April.

Once the draft assessment is published, officials said that another public meeting will be held and that public comment on the draft assessment itself would be open for 30 days. Based on the findings of the final environmental assessment, the decision to move ahead with the project or conduct a more thorough environmental impact statement will be made three to four months after public comment has ended.


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