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Opposition to O’Gara Group continues to grow in Westmoreland County

Ever since the Westmoreland County public became aware of O’Gara Group’s intentions to bring its paramilitary training facility to a 350-acre tract that is currently owned by Bryan Chandler and the county government, public opposition has been on the rise.

A few weeks after the January 2009 meeting in which members of the local government ratified a contract to sell its unoccupied industrial shell building and surrounding 25 acres to O’Gara, O’Gara employee Jim Noe met with local residents and made a promise that O’Gara Group will not come to Westmoreland is enough county residents made it clear that O’Gara is not wanted.



The message being sent to O’Gara and members of the local government has gotten stronger and stronger with every passing week. A new group, Westmoreland County Citizens for Change, holds weekly meetings to exchange research findings about O’Gara’s current operations.

That organization has become known throughout Westmoreland as WE COUNT. Its members have displayed their banner in from of the old county courthouse at every opportunity and have even made trips to Colonial Beach to gather petition signatures.

As this edition of The Journal goes to press, WE COUNT is making an effort to secure a spot on the June 8 Board of Supervisors meeting agenda. The organization delivered a power-point presentation to the Supervisors when the Board met on May 11.

The June 8 Board meeting will be one of the year’s six evening sessions. Word on the street is that the meeting will begin at 6 p.m., but the previous evening meeting was held on April 13 and began at 4 p.m.

The May 11 Board of Supervisors meeting was dominated by the O’Gara topic. Recent editions of this paper noted the session’s public comment segment in which O’Gara opponents took advantage of that opportunity to speak.

Kennon Morris addressed the O’Gara subject during that meeting’s public comment segment, noting that he, too, lives on the Nomini, a Potomac tributary whose Pierce Branch residents are in closest proximity to the 325-acre Chandler tract O’Gara hopes to buy.

Morris reminded the Supervisors that he is president of the Westmoreland County Citizens Association, which has taken no position on the O’Gara question. Even so, he then related, there is no one in the organization who agrees with the way the county government handled its business with O’Gara. He faulted the local government for its deliberate lack of transparency.

“The public was deceived,” Morris commented. He further noted that O’Gara employee Noe’s comments to local residents were largely inconsistent with assertions made by O’Gara Group when it made its intentions to the public during the late night meeting of January 11.

Nomini Creek homeowner Cathy Scott addressed the Westmoreland Supervisors during the same public comment segment. Referencing the late Westmoreland Zoning Administrator Gary Ziegler’s September 2008 document opining that a consulting service such as O’Gara’s is in fact a school that can locate as a matter of right on agriculturally zoned land, Scott posed several questions.
“Why would Mr. Ziegler write that memo? Was he board at his desk, or was he instructed by someone to do it?

“Don’t any of you find it odd that a company like O’Gara that is in business for the purpose of making money would go to Louisa County and file and application and when the citizens told their Board of Supervisors no, O’Gara went to Essex to filed an application and those citizens said no, we don’t want it, either.

“Then,” Scott continued, “O’Gara came to Westmoreland County, where they said they’d be happy with the [smaller] 350-acre tract, but as their business grows, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect them to want to expand?

“What of the precedent that is being established for establishments such as O’Gara’s to locate on agriculturally zoned land?  Part of the reason I’m upset is because O’Gara has already said it wants to buy the shell building property and the Chandler land, but I understand the Chandlers own at least 700 additional acres around there.

“Will O’Gara come before the Board of Supervisors if they decide to buy additional property and the county government has said they don’t need to conduct a special hearing” in order to locate on other agriculturally zoned land?

“This Board and the County Administrator did not do their due diligence” before the sales contract was approved by the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Authority, Scott related. “That was wrong!”

Nearby home owner Jerry Heath told the Supervisors he has profound concern about the manner in which O’Gara’s shooting range activity will impact is horses, dogs and cats. In addition to startling noise, he worried about stray bullets.

Heath asked what the Supervisors though would happen if an O’Gara trainee were to trip and fall while firing a rifle. The stray round could travel for many, many miles, he warned.

“I chose to live here because I wanted to enjoy the peace and quiet,” Heath told Board members. If you made a mistake, all you need to do is say so and we’ll forgive you and help find other venues that won’t turn the community we love into a dust bowl town.”

Westmoreland native John Taylor spoke to the Supervisor, explaining that the family farm where he resides is only one mile from the site where O’Gara Group expects to locate.

“I know there will be a lot of noise if they are shooting ten or twelve guns at the same time. I’ve always been proud of my home. I’m proud of my family’s farm and I’m proud of this county.

“We in Westmoreland County don’t want O’Gara. We don’t want it and we don’t need it, either.”

“I thank all of you for coming out,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Darryl Fisher when the session’s public comment segment ended.

“We appreciate your input.”

Betsy Ficklin

 

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