County's reception of FASTC has far-reaching implications
BY BILL EVANS Guest Comment
Published: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 , The Bay Times
For the past couple months I've been watching the news unfold around the U.S. State Department's choice of a 2,050 acre site near Ruthsburg for a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) with a mixture of elation, amusement, wonder and horror in that order. Unfortunately the elation was short lived, and the amusement wore thin in a big hurry.
I was first elated when the news broke that the Queen Anne's County site was chosen over other potential sites in Virginia and West Virginia. For me it confirmed what I had written often in Two Cents Worth columns over the years about Queen Anne's enormous potential by virtue of its location just a short stretch of water from the nation's capitol, the 5th largest metropolitan area in the U.S., three international airports, six major league sports franchises, and a long list of world-renowned cultural, medical and educational institutions. Coupled with the fact that it provides a place to live and work in an area surrounded by water, farmland, abundance of wildlife, good schools, and populated by decent people who put an emphasis on family living and enjoy a quality of life that is prized by any enterprise looking to attract and retain highly skilled employees.
Unfortunately local government doesn't understand the county's value, doesn't know how to market it, or both. During the past few years commercial tax revenues in the county actually declined from an embarrassing 11 percent, to an appalling 8 percent, placing an even larger tax burden on the backs of county residents. Next I was amused by the outbursts of Sveinn Storm who, enraged that the federal government didn't contact him first before making their site selection, declared, "I believe this is politically driven to spend stimulus money," Really? Anyone with an ounce of business sense understands that consolidating an operation with 19 sites across the country into a single new facility would not only increase efficiency, but greatly reduce tax-based operating costs as well.
Storm also referenced the "...dangerous intersection of Route 304 and U.S. Route 301," totally overlooking the obvious, that with FASTC approval the sorely needed overpass would quickly become reality, not just one more project on the State's already overcrowded back burner.
Soon after this it was at a well publicized meeting in Ruthsburg with a few dozen locals that the wonder and horror I experienced immediately kicked in as I observed the regress of one politician after another beginning with Rep. Frank Kratovil.
"This announcement is a big win for the Eastern Shore economy," said Kratovil. But a week or so later he was tap dancing all around the issue, and in effect, saying he would follow the lead of the county commissioners, or something like that.
Then the Queen Anne's County commissioners (with the notable exception of Paul Gunther), who obviously had taken Tap Dancing 101 from the same instructor as Kratovil, began doing the old soft shoe entertaining us with a good impersonation of Michael Jackson's moonwalk as they shuffled backward away from their original positive positions while abandoning the many county residents who are hurting most in this bad economy. I count many friends and relatives among them. Problem is they're not whiners. And they're not into shouting down people at public meetings. So they're easily overlooked by all but the true visionaries and compassionate among us.
The same commissioners, with that one exception, seemed to have come to a reckless and misguided conclusion. It appears they assume that the acceptance or rejection of the FASTC facility is just a single isolated opportunity, whether accepted or turned down, and there will be plenty more coming our way in the future. Not true!
The bottom line is this. How we respond to this specific opportunity laid at our doorstep has far reaching implications that will impact on the economic well being of the residents of Queen Anne's County (and by association, the Mid-Shore) well into the future.
This should have been obvious to everyone when Sen. Barbara Mikulski said, "The government cannot have the process drawn out. If they (Queen Anne's) don't want it, I don't think it should be forced."
However if you read between the lines it's what she didn't say that's disturbing. It has its roots in human nature. In my opinion, Mikulski has done more for the Eastern Shore than anyone who's represented us in the U.S. Senate in the past. She obviously worked very hard bringing us this opportunity. And, though she didn't say it, it was obvious to me that she was more than a little displeased with the county's negative response. I have to ask myself, if I were her would I make the same effort for Queen Anne's in the future, or look instead at another Maryland county that might be more receptive? The answer is obvious to me. Too bad it isn't to the powers that be.
Also, and equally important, the county's actions to date have not gone unnoticed by the Maryland Department of Economic Development in charge of bringing business to the state. They, too, will be hesitant to send business our way. And who could blame them?
One more thing in case you wondered. I live less than three miles by car from Ruthsburg. And a little over a mile as the crow flies from the proposed FASTC site.