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Group asks for QA training site inquiry
Officials also critical of proposed Queen Anne's County project
By LIAM FARRELL, Staff Writer
Published 01/12/10  The Capital

A Queen Anne's County environmental group has asked for an investigation into the federal government's decision to locate a security training center outside Centreville, as elected officials step up their own criticism of the project.

The Queen Anne's Conservation Association has sent a letter to Brian Miller, the inspector general of the U.S. General Services Administration, asking for an investigation of the process that led to the 2,000-acre Hunter Ray and Crismer farm properties being chosen for a proposed Foreign Affairs Security Center.

"The appearance exists that the process has been systematically manipulated to exclude meaningful participation by the public, especially those local residents most directly affected, in order to reach a predetermined result without regard to environmental and other applicable policy considerations," Jay Falstad, the director of communications for the association, wrote in the letter.

Since May 2008, the State Department has wanted a more centralized and efficient location for training now done at more than a dozen sites across the nation, according to the federal government. More than $100 million has been set aside for the project, including $70 million of federal stimulus money.

The first phase of the facility, projected to be built in 2011, would include not only administration buildings but also outdoor tactical combat ranges and high-speed anti-terrorism driving tracks.

Falstad said in the letter that public meetings have offered poor and confusing information, with limited participation from residents and the appearance of a predetermined decision made in spite of ongoing environmental studies.

"Meaningful public participation, and meaningful assessment of environmental impacts and alternatives, cannot occur when the major federal action involved remains cloaked in ever-shifting accounts of what in fact it is," he states.

Falstad said yesterday that he intends to follow up with GSA about his letter in the next few days and does not know what sort of time line could be expected for a review.

Although elected officials originally praised the project as a way to create jobs, they have also become critical during the process.

Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Queen Anne's, said in a statement last week he is "deeply disappointed," and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., labeled the situation an "unmitigated disaster" in a Jan. 8 letter to Stephen Leeds, the acting administrator for the GSA. Mikulski criticized the conduct of GSA representatives in meetings with the community and asked for an extended public comment period with better briefings and tours of similar institutions for adjacent property owners.

GSA representatives "displayed a shocking, inexcusable and inexplicable lack of preparation, which has resulted in threats of lawsuits, widespread anger and what I fear is now an implacable opposition to the project," Mikulski said in the letter. "This disastrous lack of preparation and dismissive attitude represents an unconscionable lack of respect for our democratic process."

Rachel MacKnight, a spokeswoman for Mikulski, said the GSA is expected to respond soon to the senator's inquiry. "We expect to see some progress on those issues," she said.

A GSA spokesman was unavailable for comment.

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