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Byrd letter says center's firing range will be outdoors

May 31, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A proposed $24.9 million federal firearms training center that may be built near Harpers Ferry, W.Va., would have an outdoor firing range, according to a letter written by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

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Byrd said the U.S. Treasury Department "envisions" the facility would have an outdoor range, although the agency has said it is willing to fully enclose it, Byrd, D-W.Va., said in a letter to the executive director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy.

Byrd said in the letter that it is important to note that an outdoor range is semi-enclosed, with four walls and a louvered roof.

Some local residents have complained about not being able to get details about the design of the firearms training facility.

Critics of the project have expressed fear the training center could create noise problems and hurt tourism at nearby Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

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Two weeks ago, Paul Rosa, executive director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, asked the Jefferson County Commissioners to send a letter to Byrd requesting that legislation regarding the center be delayed until the community can learn more about the facility.

The commissioners instead voted last week to lend their support to the project.

Officials with the U.S. Department of the Interior, who proposed putting the training center on 30 acres owned by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, have said they will look into the noise concerns.

A spokesman in Byrd's office said he does not know if the senator will make his own inquiry about possible noise problems.

Congress is on break this week and Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin said he does not expect lawmakers to consider the proposed facility again until next week at the earliest.

"I think at this point, his letters will have to speak for themselves," Gavin said Wednesday.

The U.S. Customs Service wants the new facility to train personnel to deal with terrorist threats and fight the drug war, Byrd said.

"The men and women of the Customs Service, who protect our nation's borders 24 hours each day, face many threats from those who intend to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the United States," Byrd said in his letter to Rosa. "First-class tactical and firearms skills are crucial so that they can be prepared for the danger associated with investigative and interdiction work."

Byrd told Rosa he is aware of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy's interest in expanding Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. But Byrd said the commissioners split vote of 3-2 in favor of the park's expansion indicates to him that more work needs to be done to develop a consensus in the community on issues relating to preservation of historically significant lands around the park.

Rosa said Wednesday he is disappointed with Byrd's remarks. Rosa said the 3-2 vote "is the will of the people."

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