Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Opposition Continues to Foreign Affairs Security Training Center

Local opposition to State Department plans for construction of a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center on Maryland's rural Eastern Shore appears to be hardening. The Washington Times had a story two days ago about the latest public meeting on the matter, a meeting which did nothing to satisfy local opponents.

For more than three hours, officials from the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the General Services Administration patiently answered questions and withstood scathing comments that revealed an opposition and distrust rivaling the most confrontational displays in last year's health care town-hall summits.

When it was over, few opinions had been swayed.

-- snip --

"We have been treated by the GSA [General Services Administration] and the State Department as if we're a bunch of backwood hicks who don't know what's good for us," said Centreville resident Sveinn Storm, a local activist who has taken a prominent role in opposing the center.

"In reality, we are mainstream America. We're angry about wasteful projects that are going to ensure that our children and grandchildren won't be able to climb out of the pit of debt that projects like this are digging for them. We are absolutely livid at the treatment that we've received."

-- snip --

Complaints range from concerns that the facility would overwhelm country roads or create too much noise to a fear that it would contribute to suburban "sprawl" or drive away game birds from this popular hunting area.

In opposing the project, County Commissioner Eric Wargotz, a Republican who is running for Ms. Mikulski's Senate seat, said zoning restrictions would limit a private developer to building about 150 to 200 town houses on the site, but the federal government is not bound by similar restrictions.

"This flies in the face of all the efforts this state has made toward smart growth and planning," he said.

-- snip --

A January public meeting intended to address local concerns ended up prompting an angry letter to GSA acting Administrator Stephen R. Leeds from Ms. Mikulski, who said agency representatives treated her constituents "with a disregard that borders on arrogance."

"They displayed a shocking, inexcusable and inexplicable lack of preparation, which has resulted in threat of lawsuits, widespread anger and what I fear now is an implacable opposition to the project," she wrote, adding that the GSA's inability to answer basic questions gave the appearance of a lack of transparency. "It is hard to imagine how your team could have done a worse job in explaining this important project to the community."

-- snip --

The State Department has persisted, with mixed results, in its effort to make the case that the facility will be good for the community. Officials have posted plans, maps and the answers to dozens of frequently asked questions on their Web site.
They have arranged bus tours to military and civilian facilities with similar missions as the proposed training center and staged explosives demonstrations to make their case to skeptical residents, politicians and reporters that the facility will not be as intrusive as they think.

In some cases, the efforts have only provided ammunition to the opponents, who have filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests, securing project documents and details. Mr. Storm traveled with a video camera to New Mexico to visit a security training facility with a similar mission to document the town's disenchantment with the federal facility it invited on the promise of jobs and economic growth.

You can read more about the objections of local residents at Citizens for Greater Centreville.

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