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Federal training center to open in May

March 03, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - A new federal firearms training facility near Harpers Ferry which will be used to train U.S. Customs agents and other federal agents will begin operations in May, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd said Wednesday.

Byrd, D-W.Va., announced the opening of the center off U.S. 340 after he met with Robert C. Bonner, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to get an update on the facility.

The facility will be used to train U.S. Customs agents who work at airports, seaports and border crossings to protect the country from drug smuggling, money laundering, child pornography and - to an increasing degree - terrorism, federal officials have said.

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A variety of scenarios will be set up at the Advanced Training Center to prepare agents for the threats they will see in the field, federal officials said.

The scenarios will imitate situations like an airport scene, a border crossing and a warehouse, federal officials said.

Federal officials have said the facility will be an expansion of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, which has operations in Glynco, Ga., and Artesia, N.M.

Byrd said in a news release Wednesday that the facility, which is on 104 acres behind the Americast plant, is expected to provide training to about 12,000 federal agents each year.

The center will employ about 45 full-time staff and contractors, said Byrd, who spearheaded the effort to bring the facility to Jefferson County and who lined up $24.9 million to built it.

"The Department of Homeland Security has been working hard on the final preparations for the new Advanced Training Center, which will serve as a key part of America's border security efforts," Byrd said in a news release.

Bonner said he was encouraged by the work that has gone into the facility.

"We have made excellent progress on the Harpers Ferry training center. When it opens, this center will be an important part of the nation's homeland security backbone," Bonner said in the release.

The property which the center was built on borders Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and some were concerned about how the facility might affect tourism when it was being planned.

Local officials said Wednesday that residents seem to be happy with the way the center was designed.

Byrd has arranged meetings between U.S. Customs and local residents and officials to ensure that the design of the new facility addressed community concerns regarding noise, traffic and historical protection.

Federal officials planning the facility worked with National Park Service officials on placement of buildings at the firearms training facility to make sure they would not be seen from the park, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park Superintendent Donald Campbell said Wednesday.

Also, U.S. Customs Service purchased 300 trees which will provide a screen between the facility and the park, Campbell said.

"We're very pleased with how it has turned out," Campbell said.

Harpers Ferry Mayor Jim Addy said he does not believe there will be any problems with noise from the training facility because it is in an isolated area.

"I'm confident it's an asset for the community," Addy said.

Federal officials have said that a gun firing range at the facility will be semi-enclosed with four walls and a louvered roof. It also will have mechanisms to control noise, federal officials said.

An official who will oversee the facility met with the Jefferson County Commissioners in 2002 to describe the facility.

Tom Trotto said bullets from the guns will be caught by a steel trap. The ammunition will decelerate as it spins around a container then drops into a holding tank, Trotto told commissioners.

The facility also will include an armory, practical training areas and an academic/administration building, Byrd said.

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