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Gun range could be moved

May 16, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - A federal firearms training center proposed for federal land near Harpers Ferry could be built somewhere else if the community doesn't support the $24.9 million project, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd's office said Tuesday.

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Critics of the gun range say it could hurt tourism at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and pose noise problems. They also say the public had no input into the plan and found out about it only when a local activist and lawyer came across the plan for the center while reviewing budget documents.

In a faxed statement Tuesday, Byrd, D-W.Va., said he was told that the facility would not affect nearby properties.

He said he won't support the proposed site if it "would genuinely jeopardize historic resources. If the community does not support this project, I will certainly change the legislative provision," Byrd's statement said.

Changing the "legislative provision" could mean several things, including moving the facility somewhere else, Byrd spokeswoman Ann Adler said.

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"I think most of that depends on the feedback the senator gets from the community," Adler said.

Adler could not say how Byrd plans to get feedback on the proposal. His office did not list any alternative sites.

The firearms training center has been proposed for 327 acres owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but details on its design or exact location on the land have not been disclosed.

Officials with the Treasury Department and the U.S. Customs Service did not respond to requests for more information.

Byrd's office released a letter written May 2 to Byrd from James E. Johnson, under secretary of enforcement for the Treasury Department.

Of the 150,000 Treasury employees serving in 450 locations in the United States and abroad, 20,000 must carry guns, Johnson said in the letter.

The Customs Service alone has a larger gun-carrying contingent than all but one municipal police force in the United States, he said. The Customs Service has said it needs better training to respond to terrorist threats at U.S. borders and to fight the drug war.

"Keeping these armed officers trained in the latest firearms and defense tactics is challenging," Johnson wrote to Byrd.

Johnson described a "critical need to strengthen our in-service firearms and tactical training program in order to ensure the safety of our officers."

Paul Rosa, executive director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, said he was encouraged by Byrd's Tuesday statement.

"This is quite a sea change," he said.

Rosa said he hopes that it means Byrd may be leaning toward transferring the land in question to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, a move the nonprofit land trust organization has been advocating.

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