This article about objections in and near Ruthsburg, Md., to a proposed State Department training site in the Eastern Shore town incorrectly described a document that contributed to a decision by Queen Anne's County to withdraw support for the project. It was a solicitation for Bureau of Diplomatic Security training services, not a land solicitation, that described plans for air operations and the use of heavy artillery. The article also said, based on information provided by a State Department official, that the department now trains 10,000 people a year. The department currently trains 6,000 to 7,000 a year and expects to train 10,000 annually by 2014.
Some in Md. town call anti-terrorism training plan a dud
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The few hundred residents who live in a bucolic corner of Maryland's Eastern Shore don't object to the 400 jobs that might come from a new State Department facility funded with stimulus money. It's just that they're not really into the noise and commotion that would come from the chases, machine-gun fire and bomb blasts.
The little bombs scheduled to go off nine or 10 times a week in Ruthsburg would be a nuisance, and the bigger ones detonated every few weeks could be more of a headache. But it's the three-pounders that have residents in a panic. They're convinced that it'll amount to mini-earthquakes, shaking pictures off walls and slowly tearing apart a historical landmark -- not to mention scaring the bejesus out of their children, chickens and horses.
"Our house was built in 1850 on a foundation of bricks and mortar," said John Roschy, 69. "How long is it going to take to start crumbling from the concussions from all those explosions?"
About 30 miles east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, down a quiet country road behind some trees a couple hundred yards from Roschy's back door, the State Department is deep into a plan to use $70 million to buy two tracts of farmland and begin building one of the nation's largest and busiest anti-terrorism and security training facilities.
The 2,000-acre site would have a racetrack to teach thousands of diplomats how to evade would-be attackers, firing ranges for target practice for machine-gun-wielding bodyguards and blasting pits to show embassy workers how to sift through rubble for evidence.
"We need to get more people out to high-threat and dangerous places than ever before, and this would help us do that," said Jeffrey W. Culver, director of the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, which employs 35,000 people and guards everyone from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to the U.S. Olympic team in Vancouver.
"Quite frankly, currently, it's a nightmare," said Chris DiZebba, a State Department planner, explaining how each year about 10,000 trainees play musical chairs at 19 rented sites from Virginia to California before jetting overseas.
But missteps by federal officials and fierce opposition from a few hundred locals have led to months of delays and left the State Department in damage-control mode to convince neighbors and members of Maryland's congressional delegation that they can build berms and plant trees to muffle the blasts.
Window into the stimulus
The conflict over the site helps explain why dozens of stimulus projects totaling billions of dollars remain on drawing boards more than a year after Congress passed the $787 billion plan.
Despite being pitched as shovel-ready, any project like the training facility that requires land-use approvals can quickly end up mired in local zoning, environmental and not-in-my-backyard battles.
In some cases, the deeper level of public scrutiny has also raised questions about why such projects are labeled "stimulus." Community hearings on the State Department project, for instance, have revealed that the bulk of spending would not go to creating jobs but to buying farmland. Remaining funds would pay for limited construction work at the end of the year -- nearly two years after the stimulus package was passed.
The bulk of the major construction work, such as building dormitories and laboratories, is expected to cost hundreds of millions more through 2014 -- and potentially several times the project's initial share of stimulus money -- as well as require future congressional budget approval.