Kratovil Mum on Ruthsburg

U.S. Representative Frank Kratovil, D-Md.-1st will withhold his position on the proposed site for the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in Ruthsburg until the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners and local residents convey a more definitive stance, Kevin Lawlor, a spokesman for the representative, said last week. Lawlor told The Star Democrat last Tuesday that Kratovil would actively oppose the facility after confirming in person that the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners oppose the project. On Thursday, Lawlor added a stipulation, saying that Kratovil will oppose the project at the proposed site only “if the county commissioners unanimously and publicly oppose it and the public sentiment is that they don’t want the facility.”

The commissioners, who initially supported the project, withdrew their support December 22, and there has not been a formal vote on the matter among the commissioners since that date. Lawlor said the congressman would like to see in writing the board’s position, since the support of some of the commissioners has been withdrawn. In regard to the public’s stance, Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Eric Wargotz, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Senator Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said, “I think the local citizens have definitively opposed it.”

In a subsequent letter to Wargotz, Kratovil sought clarification on the commissioners’ current position on the proposed site for the facility. The commissioners originally asked for Kratovil’s support for the project at the proposed site in early September, according to Kratovil’s letter. In a letter from the commissioners dated December 28, however, the commissioners said they would no longer support the facility because of the General Services Administration and Department of State’s inadequate public outreach process and rising concerns about described activities beyond the original scope of the project.

Kratovil said he needed clarification on “whether withdrawal of support indicated intent to formally oppose the project” or insinuated “an officially neutral stance until further information became available.” “Conversations with individual commissioners and with county staff made it clear that at least some of the commissioners believed the latter to be the case,” Kratovil wrote.

In response to Kratovil’s letter, Wargotz said he cannot and will not speak for his fellow commissioners, but does himself oppose the facility in its proposed location and believes the majority of local residents oppose it. Wargotz suggested that Kratovil either contact the other commissioners individually or write commission chairman Gene Ransom to request a formal vote if he needs further clarification before making his decision.

In a phone interview, Wargtoz said asking for unanimity among the commissioners is unreasonable and does not make much sense. “You don’t take a position based on unanimity, but based on majority,” Wargotz said. “If the chairman called a vote, and the vote was reflective of the majority opinion, I would expect Mr. Kratovil to support that opinion.”

In his letter to Wargotz, Kratovil said he shares the commissioners’ frustration with the public outreach process by the GSA and the State Department. He said he is pleased by the GSA’s recent commitment to extend the public comment period until February 19 and to schedule two additional public meetings.

The center would condense training currently taught in 19 different facilities around the nation into a single facility, providing both “hard skills” and “soft skills” training. The hard skills training would include indoor and outdoor firing ranges, an explosives range, weapons and explosives storage, three driving tracks and several mock urban environments. Classrooms, simulation labs, administrative offices and a fitness center would comprise the “soft skills” portion. Estimated cost of the project is $150-million to $500-million, with $70-million of the $105.5-million allocated for phase 1 of the project coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (federal stimulus bill). The project is expected to bring 400 full- and part-time jobs to the area, along with construction jobs to build the facility, according to information the federal government provided Queen Anne’s County in September.