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Byrd lays out new plan for fed's training facility

June 09, 2000

DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd said Thursday he has come up with a plan that would enable a proposed federal firearms training facility to be built while offering a higher level of protection for the historical land on which it would be located.

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Byrd, D-W.Va., laid out his plan during a meeting with local officials, conservationalists and federal officials in Washington, D.C., Thursday afternoon.

All the members of the Jefferson County Commission, except James G. Knode, attended, as did Jefferson County Development Authority director Jane Peters and Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson.

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Also present was Robert Stanton, director of the National Park Service and senior U.S. Customs officials.

Byrd initially had proposed transferring from U.S. Fish and Wildlife to the U.S. Customs Service a 327-acre tract near Harpers Ferry for the $24.9 million training facility.

On Thursday, he proposed that the land remain under the ownership of Fish and Wildlife and that the U.S. Treasury Department lease the land needed to construct a firearms facility.

The U.S. Park Service would manage the 327 acres, Byrd said in a faxed press release Thursday evening.

Because part of the Park Service's mission is to preserve historic properties, its management of the land would provide a greater degree of protection, he said.

"I believe that I have developed a plan that can put to rest many of the concerns expressed about the Customs Service Training Center proposed for Jefferson County," Byrd said in the press release.

U.S. Customs wants the firearms training center in order to train personnel to deal with terrorist threats and fight the drug war.

Local conservation groups have expressed concern about how such a facility would affect tourism at nearby Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Concern also has been raised about noise from the facility.

As part of his new plan, Byrd said he wants the Park Service to work with the Treasury Department and the local community to ensure the facility would not infringe upon the historically significant portion of the Fish and Wildlife property. Byrd said he also wants Treasury officials to work with community members to address noise and safety concerns.

Part the land includes School House Ridge, where Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson surveyed his 14,000 troops before his siege and capture of Harpers Ferry in 1862.

The Harpers Ferry Conservancy has been concerned because the 327 acres in question is about one-third of the land it wanted to add to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Byrd said he is concerned there is divisiveness over the park expansion issue in Jefferson County. He said he will add language to an appropriations bill that will direct the Park Service to conduct an "outreach program" in the county to make residents aware of the pros and cons of a park expansion. The outreach program would better determine the degree of interest in an expansion, Byrd said.

Some who attended Thursday's meeting said both conservationalists and economic development supporters who want the firearms facility seemed pleased with Byrd's plan.

"I think it fits in very well. It's a good compromise," said Commissioner Edgar Ridgeway.

Although Matt Ward, chairman of the board of directors for the Harpers Ferry Conservancy would not say whether the plan addresses all of his concerns, he called Byrd's plan "wise and appropriate."

"It was a great clearing of the air," said Paul Rosa, executive director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy.

The next step is to include the plan in an appropriations bill and move it through the Senate, Ward said.

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