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U.S. State Department training site draws concerns 

By KONRAD SUROWIEC Special from The Star Democrat
Sunday, October 11, 2009 12:00 am 

CENTREVILLE There are some rumblings of citizen discontent about a 1,505-acre property in Ruthsburg possibly being acquired by the federal government to build a training facility for U.S. State Department security personnel.

The Queen Anne's County Commissioners announced Sept. 8 that the State Department is working with the federal General Services Administration on the training facility project.

The privately owned Hunt Ray Farm property, near state Route 304 and 481, is one of four or five sites being considered by the State Department to buy so it can build a 180,000-square-foot facility as part of a plan to consolidate its training programs at one site. The county commissioners said they support the idea of having the training facility at the Ruthsburg site, but they want the State Department to hold a public meeting at the Ruthsburg Community Hall to explain their plans to local residents.

The State Department also is considering sites in West Virginia and Virginia, and it hasn't made a decision.

The facility is estimated to cost $150 million to $500 million to build, and construction would be done in phases over four to five years. The facility would employ 150 full-time State Department employees and 150 to 200 contractual employees.

Two Queen Anne's County residents voiced concerns at the Sept. 22 county commissioners' meeting about the State Department project. A lot of positive things previously were said about having the training facility in the county, but there also are downsides, said Queenstown resident Richard Altman, executive director of Queen Anne's Conservation Association. He said the federal government is exempt from county zoning laws. He also asked what impact it would have on the county to have roughly 1,500 acres under federal government control.

Altman said the commissioners and county citizens "deserve more information" before the commissioners make a commitment to the project.

William "Bud" Roe Jr., of Roe Crossroads, was more outspoken in his opposition. He said residents were "blindsided" by news of the possible State Department project, and the proposal comes as a citizens advisory committee nears the end of its work in making recommendations for the county's updated comprehensive plan. He said the federal facility would be built on prime farmland.

"I mean we're basically setting up a Quantico in Ruthsburg," Roe said, referring to the federal base in Virginia.

Commission President Gene Ransom said Roe and Altman raised legitimate concerns, but if the State Department project provides a good economic benefit to Queen Anne's County, county officials don't automatically want to say no, either. Ransom said the State Department has not yet picked the site it wants for the training facility.

Both Ransom and Commissioner Eric Wargotz said the county hasn't had problems with a federal facility on Kent Island that's operated by the National Security Agency, and they called the NSA a good neighbor. Ransom said the State Department project would bring jobs to the county, something the county needs.

Ransom, speaking after the meeting, said he thinks "a federal training facility for diplomats" would be a better use of the Hunt Ray Farm property than having more single-family houses built in a rural area of the county. There's a plan for a 110-lot residential subdivision on Hunt Ray Farm, but the plan has not yet been approved by the Queen Anne's County Planning Commission.

More information about the proposed State Department training facility can be found on the Web site, which has information about projects funded with the federal stimulus bill the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Click under "investments;" click under "by agency" and click "Department of State (DOS)" near the bottom of the list. Then find "ARRA Diplomatic and Consular Programs: Hard Skills Training Center Recovery Plan," which gives a summary of the proposed project.

The article says federal funds from the ARRA (stimulus bill) and the Worldwide Security and Protection fund will enable the State Department "to construct a hard skills training campus that meets the increased demand for security training and makes the delivery of security more efficient than the current arrangement of 15 separate locations throughout the United States.

"Specifically, the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat course, already mandated for federal employees assigned to only five specific posts, will be expanded to include all critical and high threat posts worldwide. This project will enable the Department to provide vital security training to law enforcement and security staff and all foreign affairs employees; especially those assigned to critical and high threat posts."

The article says funds for Phase 1 of the project are anticipated to pay for perimeter security, indoor firing ranges, live-fire shooting houses, baffled outdoor tactical combat ranges, outdoor rifle range, drive and shoot range, simulations building, high-speed antiterrorism driving tracks, mock urban driving tracks, unimproved road driving course, administration buildings, and site/utility infrastructure.

The article said the timeline for the project calls for the government to complete the site acquisition in December 2009, and award a design and build contract in May 2010.

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