$7.5 million facility for training sought

Police, firefighters would use site at Alpha Ridge Landfill

January 09, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Robey administration wants to expand an outdoor police firing range at Alpha Ridge Landfill into a 30-acre training facility for Howard County firefighters and police.

The location of the proposed $7.5 million facility, near Marriottsville, was revealed yesterday to Howard legislators and about 500 residents of the area, who were mailed notification letters.

A public meeting to discuss the idea is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28 at Mount View Middle School.

County Executive James N. Robey is asking county legislators to help obtain $500,000 in matching state funds to plan and begin work on the facility, which officials say is badly needed.

Del. Frank S. Turner, a Columbia Democrat and the county's House delegation leader, said yesterday that he supports the location. "It's kind of minimal. I think it's a good idea," he said.

Del. Robert H. Kittleman, a Republican who represents the western county, said the facility is needed but that he wants to hear what residents say first.

Police and fire recruits are trained in classrooms in the Gateway Building in Columbia and in rodent-infested trailers on surplus county land in Cooksville. They also use facilities in other counties, which sometimes are loath to lend time to Howard officers, and Howard officials say they lose time traveling to those facilities.

County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican who represents the area, said the training facility is "something we need in the county" but that he will wait to hear residents' reactions before taking a firm position.

"It would be next to a landfill and a major highway. It certainly seems like a logical place to put it," he said.

The undeveloped land is in the southwest corner of the 690-acre landfill site along Interstate 70, on what James M. Irvin, the county public works director, called "buffer land."

The county wants to install modular classrooms, a physical training building, storage buildings, parking and, later perhaps, a "burn" building shell designed for firefighter training. No driver training course would be held there, Irvin said, and the facility would be closed to the public.

Eventually, he said, the county would enclose the outdoor range or mute the noise of firing.

The range sits behind a locked fence off unmarked, partly unpaved Thompson Drive, directly behind Sand Hill Estates, a luxury-house development on Sand Hill Road. A handful of the 78 houses planned for the development has been completed. The houses will sell for more than $400,000 each.

Several residents and a major landowner expressed no objection to the plans. Others said yesterday that they are not as pleased.

Sand Hill Road neighbors Bonnie Floyd and Floyd Wilson said they have heard gunshots from the range but are not bothered.

"This is a safe neighborhood, but I don't see where that would harm anything," Bonnie Floyd said of the county's plans for more police and firefighters in the area.

Kevin Rogers, chief executive officer of Oak Hill Properties LLC, which is developing Sand Hill Estates, said, "I think it's beneficial. I'm all for it. I think it's the perfect location."

Donald L. Gill, who lives farther north, on Ramsburg Road, said that if the county wants the facility, it should offer residents a quid pro quo. "It's a shame that they take a place, make it into a landfill and then say, `We'll put all the other obnoxious facilities in there,'" he said.

Gill has fought plans for a model airplane park and for lighted roller hockey and playing fields at nearby Alpha Ridge Park.

"You go from an environmental disaster to a war zone," he said, referring to noise of firing from the gun range and local residential water wells that were polluted years ago because of the landfill.

L. Scott Muller, a Sand Hill Road resident, said police officers speed past his house "well over the 30-mph speed limit." He wants the county to build an access road from Marriottsville Road, on the other side of the landfill.

The announcement of the proposed site refers to a heightened need since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"I cannot stress strongly enough how important this project is to the safety of both our public safety professionals and the citizens they serve," Robey wrote to legislators.

Russell Strickland, an assistant director at the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute and a county resident, said in July that Howard has the fewest facilities in the state of any county with professionals on its force.

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