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Customs facility expected to receive $32 million

October 02, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - A U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility near Harpers Ferry designed to more effectively train federal agents in anti-terrorism efforts is expected to receive about $32 million for expansions like firing ranges because of federal legislation U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd has helped move through Congress.

The money was contained in a 2007 homeland security appropriations bill that was approved by the Senate late Friday, Byrd, D-W.Va., said in a news release.

The bill will be sent to President Bush for approval, and Bush is expected to sign it, Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin said.

Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened a training center along U.S. 340 near the Americast plant north of Charles Town, W.Va.

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The facility sits on a 104-acre site and has structures like a simulated border crossing, a mock airport setting, a warehouse setting and a four-acre lake, where agents can undergo anti-terrorism training.

At the lake, agents practice boarding boats to perform interdiction efforts, officials said.

The facility will train about 12,000 agents a year, officials have said.

The facility was also proposed to have indoor and outdoor gun firing ranges, although they had not been constructed when the facility opened last August.

A total of $42 million has been set aside in the homeland security legislation for the training center, and about $10 million of that money will be used for operations, Byrd said.

More than $32 million will be used for construction of new facilities like firing ranges, Gavin said.

Gavin did not have any details about when construction on the firing ranges might start or when they might be completed.

Byrd said he pressed to inject more funding into efforts to guard against terrorism at home and fought back administration proposals to cut or eliminate "first-responder" grant programs.

Byrd said he and his Democratic colleagues were able to restore a proposed $199 million cut to first-responder grants. Specifically, the legislation increases training and equipment grants for fire departments by $7 million, rather than a $246 million proposed cut; increases grants to help fire departments hire more front-line firefighters by $6 million, rather than eliminating the program; and increases grants for port, rail and transit, truck and bus security by more that $70 million, rather than eliminating and consolidating the programs.

"Too often, America forces its first responders to protect our citizens with shoestring budgets. These brave men and women put their lives on the line when the alarm bell rings. They have to be prepared to respond, whether the crisis is a blizzard or flood or chemical spill or terrorist attack," Byrd said.

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