- Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 20:24
- Published on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 20:24
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A paramilitary training establishment known as The O’Gara Group wants to establish its operations on a 350-acre stretch of ground in Westmoreland County and nearby residents have become increasingly concerned.
As long ago as January 12 O’Gara Group contracted to buy 25 acres and an empty industrial shell building from the county government to complement the adjacent 325-acre tract car dealer Bryan Chandler has agreed to sell.
Prior to execution of the January 12, 2009 sales agreement, private citizens and most members of Westmoreland’s Industrial Development Authority had no knowledge that O’Gara had begun negotiating its purchase of the county’s property as long ago as 2007.
A Westmoreland Zoning Administrator developed a set of notes in 2008 supporting the supposition that the proposed paramilitary training establishment is in fact a school as defined in local ordinance. The establishment could accordingly locate on the referenced 350 acres without becoming the subject of any public hearing.
Three months have passed since O’Gara Group’s intentions became known the tiny group of citizens who attended the late night Board of Supervisors meeting on January 12. During that interval one citizen appealed the past Zoning Administrator’s determination that the facility O’Gara Group proposes meets the criteria associated with local ordinance’s definition of a school.
The appeal was withdrawn, but opposition to O’Gara Group’s intention has continued to rise. Last Thursday evening District 3 Supervisor Lynn Brownley met with local residents and was bombarded with concerns about O’Gara’s Westmoreland County plans.
This Monday afternoon unhappy Westmoreland residents staged a protest rally on the courthouse green. Those citizens later marched from the old Montross courthouse to the George D. English Building, where a Board of Supervisors meeting was in session.
On Thursday night Supervisor Brownley, a Westmoreland County native, entertained criticisms from residents whom he had not previously met. New voices expressed their displeasure to the Board of Supervisors during this Monday night’s Board meeting.
As was previously reported, not all members of the Westmoreland County Citizens Association believe a paramilitary training establishment would be bad for Westmoreland County.
Most Citizens Association members have nonetheless been adamant that the county officials were inappropriately secretive during the eighteen-month period in which the as yet unidentified members of the local government attempted to recruit the paramilitary establishment to locate on the industrial park’s 25-acre remnant.
Individuals associated with the Citizens Association found themselves in a minority when Brownley held his constituents’ meeting last Thursday. New people had come forward to criticize the actions of their local government.
This Monday night Board of Supervisors Chairman Darryl Fisher, another Westmoreland County native, exhibited difficulty deciphering the new names that appeared on the meeting’s public comment sign-up sheet.
The afternoon rally provided an opportunity for individuals to become better acquainted. Some of the people who attended Brownley’s Thursday night meeting in the George D. English Building swapped phone numbers and names and gathered as a smaller group on Saturday morning in a private residence.
Internet web pages and new email addresses have been and are being established for the sole purpose of disseminating information on the O’Gara subject. A second protest rally is already in the works for May and the O’Gara opposition is becoming increasingly diverse.
During this Monday night’s Board of Supervisors public comment segment, resident Robert Quinn was the first county resident to speak. Quinn had been quiet since his arrival in Westmoreland County approximately seven years ago, but O’Gara Group’s arrival would change his life and he felt the time had come to make that feeling known.
Quinn struggled to find something in O’Gara Group’s intentions that would compel the county government to bring the question to the people in an advertised public hearing.
Kathy Scott was similarly unknown to the members of local government prior to this week’s meeting. She brought with her a copy of the county’s latest efforts to craft a modern comprehensive plan.
Scott related that the text in hand purported that any decisions the Westmoreland Supervisors make can be expected to significantly impact the county’s future, especially decisions associated with new development.
She noted the text’s finding that the county government must find ways to improve its communications with local residents. Scott then shared her own observation that the county government had not been appropriately transparent when efforts were made by public officials to bring O’Gara to Westmoreland.
Recruiting O’Gara is not the kind of economic development that reflects the visions of this community, Scott told the Board of Supervisors. She suggested that county officials found O’Gara Group’s intentions acceptable because no one else had come forward to purchase the unoccupied industrial shell building and the surrounding 25 acres of publicly owned land.
Scott then told the Supervisors that if her perception is in fact correct, the local government’s action is a disservice to the community.
“We want smart development, not companies that want to come to Westmoreland County because it’s a place that will allow them to do anything they want. If you gentlemen allow O’Gara to come, you’re opening a can of worms. I ask my own representative, Russ Culver, to vote no on this,” said Scott.
Don Neeley followed Kathy Scott to the podium. Neeley had not before addressed the Westmoreland County Board and he had lots to say about what can be expected at an O’Gara training facility because he is an alumnus of multiple training establishments whose programs are not unlike the O’Gara Group offerings.
“Having attended many different academies of this type, I’d like to tell you O’Gara Group would not be a good thing for a small community that will have to listen to the noise.
“O’Gara Group is in business to make money. I’ve looked at their training schedule in Danville. The cycle of classes overlaps and is repetitive. They would bring in the kind of people you wouldn’t want to have in your community.”
“Believe me,” he told the Westmoreland officials, “if O’Gara comes, these are the people who will be part of you. They will be in your face for a long, long time, eating pizza and drinking coffee with you in your restaurants.
“I encourage each and every one of you to go out and talk to others who have already been through this sort of thing!” Neeley told the members of the Board. More next week.