EPA Objections May Put Ruthsburg Facility On Slow Track
A State Department plan to build a major new diplomatic security facility on Maryland's Eastern Shore may have hit a serious snag after the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency raised questions about possible environmental damage.
The federal government's real estate arm chose a 2,000-acre farm site in Ruthsburg, in rural Queen Anne's County, last year as the preferred site for the training center. The campus-like facility, to be built with millions in stimulus dollars, attracted intense local opposition that forced state and federal elected officials to back off from their previous support for the project.
Now a caution flag raised by the regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could signal major new delays.
In a letter late last week, EPA advised the General Services Administration (GSA), overseer for federal construction projects, to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project.
"EPA believes that the project may adversely affect the aquatic and terrestrial environment, including wetlands and, potentially, endangered species," wrote Jeffrey D. Lapp, associate director of EPA's regional Office of Environmental Programs in Philadelphia.
Lapp added that EPA had already discussed the issue with GSA and advised that "it might be prudent" to consider an environmental impact statement "at this stage of the investigation. It has been the experience of EPA Region III that projects of a similar nature, requiring large land transfer and development, in a sensitive area, have been studied and publically (sic) vetted through the EIS process."
GSA had hoped to acquire the land by the middle of this year and had embarked on a less time-consuming environmental assessment process, in hopes of fast-tracking construction of the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC).
An environmental impact statement must consider a full-range of "ecological, aesthetic, historic, cultural, economic, social, or health impacts," according to the federal government. It is required for projects that would have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment.
Drafting and approving an environmental impact statement can add months, and possibly years, to the start of a project.
The EPA advised the federal government's real-estate arm to start the EIS process immediately, as an apparent alternative to completing the current review process, which has already included several public hearings in Queen Anne's County over the past three months.