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Federal fire arms training facility has support

May 23, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A plan to construct a federal firearms training facility near Harpers Ferry has drawn criticism, but others say it could be a boon to the county's economy.

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Supporters of a training center are also putting their faith in U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, saying he looks out for the best interests of the state.

Byrd, D-W.Va., added funding to a Senate appropriations bill to build the $24.9 million firearms training center on 327 acres near Harpers Ferry.

"I think there are a lot of groups that will be very supportive of it. I think it has a potential to be a real asset," said Jane Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority.

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Jefferson County Commissioner Dean Hockensmith said the people who have criticized the training center are the "same faction" of people who are always questioning land-use plans in the county. The community does not know enough about the project to tell what kind of effect it will have, Hockensmith said.

"It's crazy to say something is good or something is bad until you know what you're talking about. To speak out against something just because it's coming, that just doesn't make any sense," Hockensmith said.

Paul Rosa, director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, called Byrd's backing of the project "total betrayal."

Historic preservation groups such as Rosa's had hoped the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park would be able to expand onto the land, which is currently owned by U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Scot Faulkner, president of Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, said he fears the Harpers Ferry area would act as a natural amphitheater to amplify noise from the firing ranges.

A supporter of the firearms training facility said the park has had to contend with noise before. The park was there when the Standard Quarry operated nearby, and noise from the quarry never hurt the park, said Patty Ott, a member of the board of directors for the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

Ott predicted support for the training center would grow.

The training center will likely provide good-paying jobs for the county, said Ott, who noted her three children commute out of the county because there are not enough high-paying jobs here.

"They call it a bedroom community. If we are not attracting good enough jobs, where else do you go?" Ott said.

The training center also could bring thousands of government workers to the county for training, which would have spin-off effects for the economy, Peters said.

"It would have the same effects as tourism really," said Peters, who said those who come to the center would stay in local motels and eat at local restaurants.

One point on which Peters and critics of the project agree is that more information about the center is needed.

Calls last week to James E. Johnson, under secretary for enforcement with the U.S. Treasury and a supporter of the project, have been referred to an agency spokeswoman.

The spokeswoman, who would not give her name, would say only that the project is being assessed.

Tom Gavin, a spokesman for Byrd's office, said Monday he could not release any details on the proposal. He said the project's status remains as it was last week.

Byrd, in a faxed statement last week, said he wouldn'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," he said.

The facility would be an expansion of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga.

Paul McGuire, spokesman for the Glynco facility, said he is not authorized to talk about the Harpers Ferry proposal.

The Glynco facility is on 1,500 acres, and about half of the acreage is used for training, McGuire said.

The center covers the spectrum of law enforcement training, from high-speed pursuits to tactical training to firearms instruction.

The Glynco facility is at the former Glynco Naval Air Station, and the high-speed pursuit training is conducted on the air station's former tarmac, McGuire said.

The center has both indoor and outdoor gun ranges but is moving away from outdoor ranges to "semi-closed" ones, McGuire said.

Two semi-closed firing ranges have been built in Glynco, McGuire said. They feature louvered roofs that allow the opening in the roofs to be angled away from homes, which helps divert noise from neighborhoods, McGuire said.

The closest houses to the firing ranges are about 200 yards away, and residents in those homes would "not be shocked to hear firearms training going on," he said.

In the 11 months he has worked at the 2,000-employee facility, there have been no noise complaints, said McGuire, adding the facility trained about 26,000 people last year.

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