- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The State Department has abandoned plans to build an anti-terrorism training center funded in part with stimulus dollars on Maryland’s Eastern Shore after residents of the rural county slated to host the facility made clear that it was not wanted.

General Services Administrator Martha Johnson wrote in a letter to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, on Monday that a 2,000-acre farm that was to be the site of the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) “will no longer be considered for the proposed project.

“In this case, the preliminary analysis showed that, among other potential concerns, there would be a significant change in land use and considerable noise and traffic impacts,” Ms. Johnson wrote.

The letter does not mention the broad and vocal local opposition that came to characterize the project.

The federal government’s selection, and then withdrawal, of the Maryland site created some awkwardness for politicians, who initially courted the project but clumsily backtracked after residents complained that the federal government was dismissing their concerns, misrepresenting its plans and withholding key information.

Miss Mikulski initially said the project would bring “jobs, jobs, jobs” to Maryland but vented her frustration with GSA after residents complained that during a January public meeting federal officials seemed unprepared to answer basic questions.

“I have fought hard for this process to work and for the voices of the residents of Queen Anne’s County to be heard,” she said after federal officials announced the decision not to pursue the site.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, another early supporter, thanked the “many local citizens who participated in this process and let their voices be heard.”

Both Miss Mikulski and Mr. O’Malley said they would like to see the facility built at an alternative Maryland site.

The Washington Times profiled the project and the opposition in a March 29 article.

The planned center, which includes shooting ranges, driving tracks, reproductions of city streets for live-fire simulations and explosives detonations, would annually train 10,000 students to protect embassies and diplomats in the United States and abroad for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Services.

Residents complained that the facility would spoil the rural character of the area, strain the local infrastructure and further harm the environment around the Chesapeake Bay, and they forcefully voiced their opposition at a series of contentious town hall meetings earlier this year.

The project, which would consolidate functions currently performed at more than a dozen training locations, was awarded $70 million in stimulus funds with total cost projections of up to $500 million. It had come under fire from Republicans as wasteful, with two GOP senators in recent weeks unsuccessfully attempting to amend bills with provisions that would prohibit federal money being spent to build the center.

The GSA, the real estate arm of the federal government, was awaiting the results of an environmental assessment before acquiring the farmland, and the project fell behind months schedule due to delays in completing the report.

In March, the Environmental Protection Agency suggested that GSA consider preparing a more rigorous environmental impact statement — a process that could have created additional delays of months, if not years.

The Queen Anne’s Conservation Association in May sued the State Department and GSA in U.S. District Court seeking the release of documents relating to the project. Spokesman Jay Falstad said the group was “delighted” with the decision.

“It has been our belief since the beginning that FASTC in Ruthsburg was a poor choice,” Mr. Falstad said. “There are simply too many costly environmental and social impacts to justify this type of project in this location.”

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