A clear majority of registered voters in Queen Anne’s County say they are favorable to the proposed Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) in Ruthsburg, according to a poll released last week. When given both positive and negative information about the project, 60-percent of registered voters say they feel favorably toward the proposed site, with 27-percent saying they oppose it. Twelve percent consider themselves neutral.
The poll also found that support for the site increases when respondents had more information about the project, including arguments from both proponents and opponents. When asked for their reaction to the FASTC proposal without receiving any positive or negative information, the percent responding favorably to the site was only 49-percent, with unfavorable responses at 24-percent.
The poll was conducted by Hart Research Associates, a Washington-based polling firm that has conducted polls for numerous congressional races, NBC News and The Wall Street Journal. Conducted between January 16 and 17, the survey included a representative sample of 403 registered voters in Queen Anne’s County, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The poll was commissioned by the Eastern Shore Leadership Council, a recently formed group of area business and community leaders that supports job growth and economic sustainability in the area. Stephen Meehan, a Chestertown-based lawyer who is the spokesperson for the group and a Queen Anne’s County resident, said the group would share the results of the poll including concerns about the site with area officials and representatives from the federal General Services Administration. The organization is led by President Tom Helfenbein, a funeral director in Chester.
In an interview, Meehan said the group is focused on studying the job situation in the area and supporting solutions to address it. Meehan added that the group is developing a Web site and would have more information about their goals and organization coming in the next week.
Linda Friday, president of the Queen Anne’s County Chamber of Commerce, said she was not surprised by the results of the poll. She said this poll confirms what she already believed that only a minority of county residents oppose the project.
Jay Falstad, a spokesman for the Queen Anne’s Conservation Association, which strongly opposes the project, questioned the poll’s results. For one, he noted that the poll says that the government would pay for transportation improvements (including the intersection of Routes 301 and 304) when he has not heard of any such formal plan. He argued that large turnout against the plan at the GSA’s public meetings and recent county commission meetings is evidence of the public’s opposition to the project.
The proposed center, which would be located on 2,050 acres near state Routes 304 and 481, would consolidate training currently taught in 19 different facilities across 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.
Meanwhile, the General Services Administration agreed last week to comply with the demands outlined by U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., to better address community concerns about the proposed Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in Ruthsburg.