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Commission gets earful about fed training site
QA's Commissioner Gunther favors project
By BOBBY MCMAHON Staff Writer Published: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 

CENTREVILLE  - In their first meeting since withdrawing support for the project and after two contentious public meetings last week, the Queen Anne's County Commission on Tuesday received a generous helping of public opposition to the proposed federal training site.

The commission made no change to its Dec. 22 decision to withdraw support for the proposed Foreign Affairs Security Training Center located near Routes 304 and 481 in Ruthsburg. But in a move that brought audible grumbles from the standing-room-only crowd, Commissioner Paul Gunther voiced his personal support for the site.

"If this comes up for a vote again, I will not vote against this project," Gunther said.

In comments during the meeting, Gunther said he believed many of the problems citizens had with the project could be dealt with effectively. He sees benefits to bringing "clean industry" to the county and hopes that bringing the facility to the area could help build the overpass at the intersection of Routes 301 and 304.

"It's the stance I have to take, because I have to represent all the citizens of the county of Queen Anne's," Gunther said.

Commissioner Courtney Billups, absent from the Dec. 22 meeting, said he was most concerned with how the proposed site would affect quality of life in the county.

He did not, however, give any indication as to his personal stance on the issue. Instead, he asked those in attendance to give him an opportunity to come to his own decision about the facility.

"I know it's difficult, because what you want to hear is 'yes,' 'no,' and you want to hear that" on a variety of issues, Billups said. "Unfortunately, in this seat where I sit, it's difficult for me to do that most of the time."

Billups said that the commission had already taken a position on the facility and has given no indication that the decision would be changed. As for his personal view, he said he would be available to talk with residents about their views and would have a decision this Saturday.

As for the other commissioners, Commissioner Gene Ransom became visibly choked up in offering an apology to the gathering for his early support of the project.

"I was wrong. I made a mistake. I'm sorry," Ransom said.

Commissioner Eric Wargotz was outspoken in his opposition to the facility's placement in Ruthsburg.

"This is the wrong place," Wargotz said. "We don't have the infrastructure in place to receive such a facility, nor do we wish to compromise and lose our quality of life."

Commissioner Carol Fordonski said that one benefit to this process is the increased engagement of citizens. The more the commission hears from citizens, she said, the better decisions they make.

"It's wonderful to see your faces and hear your voices," Fordonski said.

More than 75 people were gathered in the area outside the meeting room before the 9 a.m. meeting, creating a standing-room-only crowd once inside. More than 30 people spoke during the public comment period, which took more than an hour to complete. All spoke in opposition to the project, citing concerns about declining property values, noise and air pollution, increased traffic on area roads and other issues.

Many speakers, including Centreville resident Andrew Langer, also took issue with how federal officials from the General Services Administration have attempted to educate the public about the site.

"The way that they've handled the process so far to me is indicative of the way the federal government handles everything," Langer said. He continued, calling the federal government "the cold, unfeeling, bureaucratic heart that simply doesn't listen."

Given how many people wanted to speak, the commission asked each person to keep their comments to 3 minutes, a time limit that few speakers were able to stay within. In a lighter note during the meeting, Ransom noted that Centreville resident Steve Wilson was over time, despite the fact that Ransom agreed with all of Wilson's comments.

"It's hard to suppress genius," Wilson said.

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