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GSA answers Kratovil's questions on FASTC
By BOBBY MCMAHON Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, February 17, 2010, The Bay Times

CENTREVILLE - Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Md.-1st, had questions. The Department of State and the General Services Administration (GSA) had answers.

Information received by Kratovil's office last week about the proposed Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Ruthsburg shed new light on the desired uses for the facility, its impacts on surrounding residents and how the public can participate in the process.

Specifically, Kratovil sent 16 questions to both federal organizations addressing a number of concerns voiced by community members about the proposed site. Government officials from both organizations collaborated to answer those questions and returned them in a 12-page memo to Kratovil on Feb. 5. Kratovil then distributed those answers to constituents, elected officials, land owners and others who expressed interest in knowing more about the site. On Friday, the State Department and the GSA also agreed to move the deadline for public comments about the site from Feb. 19 to March 12 after Kratovil sent a letter asking them to do so. He asked that the comment period be extended due to the recent winter storms that hit the area.

"In light of these unforeseen circumstances, it is only reasonable for you to extend the public comment period and I strongly encourage you to do so," Kratovil wrote in the Feb. 12 letter. "Affected residents and stakeholders must be afforded the time necessary to fully review the FASTC project and provide their thoughts."

As for the memo, responses to Kratovil's questions touch on numerous issues with the FASTC, including the type of training at the site.

Kratovil asked, "What 19 facilities are being consolidated to establish FASTC?" In response, officials wrote that "the Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security uses a variety of training facilities to accomplish the training mission and the actual number of facilities in use at any given time varies with the actual training requirements. The DoS is looking to consolidate particular functions, not facilities."

The answer continued, saying that the State Department uses a number of facilities for hard- and soft-skills training, including Fort A.P. Hill and Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga., the National Guard Training Base in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and other sites in West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.

As for the uses of the FASTC, officials were clear that the Ruthsburg site will not be used for heavy weapons or helicopter training, saying that the site "…in Queen Anne's County is NOT suitable for this type of training."

"The preferred site in Queen Anne's County is considered too small to accommodate the required safety zones that are mandated by Federal regulations for that training," officials state. "These activities will never be conducted at the Queen Anne's County preferred site."

In terms of noise from the FASTC, officials gave specific answers as to the frequency and noise level of explosions and gunfire from the facility. For the three-pound charges, they estimated the noise level "will be in the range of 120 decibels (dBA) at the nearest property line," which they say is similar to "being nearby a shotgun as it fires." This explosion will occur six times a year, officials said.

For half-pound charges, officials state that the estimated noise level is 105 decibels at the nearest property line, comparing that to "an air powered nail gun at 5 feet." This explosion will occur 493 times a year, officials said.

"These are impulsive sounds, rather than constant sounds, so this will be distinctly different from the majority of the existing farming, agriculture and traffic noises that exist in the community," officials said.

For the shooting ranges on site, the memo lists the guns that will be used, including .357 magnum, 9 mm, and .40 caliber handguns; 5.56 mm rifles; 9 mm, .40 caliber, and .45 caliber sub-machine guns; and 12 gauge shotguns. The memo estimates that the noise level will be 80 to 90 decibels with multiple guns firing at once. Officials compare this to "a loud voice at 5 feet, a balloon popping at 5 feet, or a motorcycle at approximately 50 feet."

"Gun fire noise during hunting season is common at the site, and the noise levels will be approximately in that range, however the training center's firing ranges will be fully baffled with walls and overhead ceiling baffles also," officials said.

The memo also provides specific strategies the GSA and State Department will consider to help mitigate the noise level from explosions and gunfire.

"Mitigation options that have been identified include earth berms to shield the noise generating areas, barrier walls, large areas of vegetation and reforestation to block noise in some areas, operational considerations such as timing of explosives and full baffle construction around the firing ranges," officials state. "These are in addition to the layout considerations that have been used in the site plan to locate the high noise elements away from sensitive areas wherever possible."

Beyond the uses of the facility and expected noise level, the memo touches on a variety of other topics, including a typical day at the training center (personnel arrive before 7:45 a.m. and are done for the day at 5:30 p.m.) and job openings at the facility (categories include "buildings and grounds, range operations, emergency medical services (EMS), administrative, custodial, vehicle maintenance, security, telecommunications, and food service").

Kevin Lawlor, a spokesman for Kratovil's office, emphasized that this memo was not the last word in the process, and that citizens had many more opportunities to have their voices heard and concerns addressed. The memo notes that the choice of Ruthsburg as the site is not a "done deal," and that public comment will occur both before and after the release of the draft environmental assessment, which they estimate will be published in late March or early April 2010.

"Many of the objections to the project will be addressed as part of the Environmental Assessment (EA) that is now underway," officials said. "GSA and the DoS will do everything possible to mitigate any negative impacts identified in the EA and satisfy the concerns of those opposed to the project.

The memo states that a final decision will be dependent on the Environmental Assessment process, and that officials anticipate a decision would be made three to four months after public comment has ended.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held on Feb. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Queen Anne's High School auditorium.

The GSA has scheduled a workshop and public forum on the for Tuesday, Feb. 16 at Queen Anne's County High School. Workshops will be held from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in school classrooms with the public forum taking place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the auditorium.



Read Guest Comment From Rep. Frank Kratovil and a rebuttal 

RFP that discloses the types of activities to be conducted there.  read more... 

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