Taking aim at forum notice

Residents criticize notification about trapshooting meeting

Session is Thursday

Newspaper ads, fliers seen as insufficient attempts to publicize

September 27, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Residents opposed to Fort Meade's planned skeet and trapshooting range are angry over what they call the short notice of a public forum on the topic, scheduled for Thursday.

"The meeting is a week away, and they still have not notified any of the community leaders in the area," Marie B. Cook, president of the Provinces Civic Association, said Thursday. Residents said they heard about the meeting mostly through word of mouth and complained that notices in three newspapers were inadequate.

"I don't know when they are planning to notify us -- probably the 29th, so no one would come," Cook said.

The session will be from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the McGill Community Activities Center. The building is on Zimborski Avenue, south of Mapes Road, the military post's main thoroughfare.

Post officials said they hope the four-hour session will offer information that area residents want, although the environmental report on the project probably will not be done in time.

The meeting was set up to give residents the opportunity to review preliminary information from the environmental assessment and to discuss with Fort Meade officials the proposed $175,000 range. Once the report is out, Fort Meade will hold a public hearing during a 30-day comment period.

"We want people to use [the information] to reach whatever decision they make," said Don McClow, Fort Meade spokesman.

At the forum, residents will be invited to visit tables arranged by subject to ask questions and register comments. Information sheets on the site and two alternative sites, on safety and noise, on planned operations and common questions will be available, McClow said.

Once the environmental report is out and available for review, residents have 30 days to comment. The report will be available at Fort Meade, Provinces and Odenton public libraries.

Post officials, who want to build the Olympic-style range in the spring at the northeastern end of the post and open it to the public, have said opposition to the plan, which was unveiled in July, was ill-informed and premature.

Neighbors say they are not reassured by Fort Meade's assertions that stray shot will not reach them, and by low noise levels reported in test firing in July.

Residents fear stray shot flying near homes, a park, a shelter for women and children and an elementary school, although the range would face away from the buildings and toward the woods. People who heard the test firing from more than a mile away thought the noise came from firecrackers; they said they neither want to hear the noise frequently nor do they want children hearing the sound of gunfire.

This week's session has further irritated residents who also had expected to base their questions and comments on the environmental report.

The flier announcing this week's meeting was mailed Thursday by the Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of the environmental assessment. It was hand-delivered to immediate neighbors on Wednesday. Public notices ran in three area newspapers more than a week ago -- in one, on the day Tropical Storm Floyd hit the region. Restoration Advisory Board members were told by e-mail last week.

Fort Meade officials would not comment when asked whether that was sufficient notice, saying notification was the Corps of Engineers' job. Corps spokesman Lucy Lather said the corps received the mailing list from Fort Meade only a week before the fliers were mailed. Zoe Draughon, RAB co-chairwoman, called Fort Meade's blaming the corps "a cop-out."

"The garrison commander will make the decision on this. He is responsible for this, so he can take responsibility for getting the word out," she said. "Let them put this behind his house."

Draughon said the hand-delivered fliers did not reach enough residents. She said that giving incomplete information at this week's meeting would make it impossible for people to ask cogent questions, and might lead many into skipping the hearing and dismissing the environmental study, leading her to suspect Fort Meade was trying to "sneak through this thing."

But Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the 3rd District Democrat who has been working with both sides, urged residents to use both the session to learn about the project and express their feelings.

Many people who lives on the base, which is home to three hunting and gun clubs, support a range, said Weldon E. Kelley, director of personnel and community activities at Fort Meade. The post has a trapshooting range, but it is in an area that is now the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge and must close by Friday.

Pub Date: 9/27/99

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