Hundreds of people packed classrooms and voiced their concerns last week at a much-anticipated public forum held at Queen Anne’s County High School on the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC). After two often-contentious meetings last month, the public forum on the proposed training site in Ruthsburg was more civil and informational, but not without passionate comments from those opposed to the facility, particularly at the question-and-answer portion of the forum.
Government officials and hired consultants held workshops in a number of classrooms, answering questions from individuals and small groups. The workshops were centered on common concerns of community members, including worries about increased noise, what would and would not happen at the site and potential economic effects.
Christopher Peoples, a lead architect with the firm KCCT, noted several changes made to the site as a result of public comments and concerns. In a revised layout of the facility, one explosive range has been eliminated and another moved to a more interior portion of the facility to reduce noise. He said they also moved the main campus of administrative buildings away from Ruthsburg and relocated the main entrance from Route 481 to Route 304 to reduce traffic.
Peoples also sought to clarify what the outdoor shooting range would look like. He said that calling it “outdoor” is almost a misnomer. The building will be fully baffled (which means that rounds cannot escape), and Peoples presented a picture of a concrete and steel building with a ventilated roof, with vents pointing in the opposite direction of the firing.
On the issue of jobs coming to the area, Ellyn Goldkind, a project manager for the site, explained that the government will hire people for “a gamut of jobs,” running the range from food service positions to higher-paying budget analyst positions. She said jobs would be given to the most qualified applicants, with no preference given if someone lives in the area.
For the construction phase of the project, Goldkind explained that the federal government will select a general contractor that would be responsible for hiring subcontractors. She added that government officials will provide networking opportunities for subcontractors and local businesses looking to work on the project.
On the issue of noise, Adam Bodner, director of the Office of Real Property Management at the State Department, said that numerous strategies were being reviewed to mitigate concerns. For explosive ranges, these strategies included placing earthen berms and vegetation around the range as well as setting the range in a 5-foot-deep hole.
As noise would still be a factor, officials at the workshop provided estimates of what community members could expect regarding noise levels. From Queen Anne’s County High School, officials said the 3-pound explosions would measure between 69 to 79 decibels (comparable to an alarm clock or a vacuum cleaner), and the half-pound explosions would measure 50 to 60 decibels (comparable to normal conversation level).