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By Margo Turner
December 26, 2000

Residents' persistent and vocal opposition to a secret $4.3 million land deal doomed a proposed National Guard tank-training facility in their rural Pennsylvania community.

The Pennsylvania National Guard planned to build the facility on 4,700 acres of land near two townships, Girard and Goshen, with a combined population of 990.

The townships felt the facility would provide much-needed jobs to Clearfield County, which lies in the coal-rich, cash-poor region of north-central Pennsylvania. What infuriated local officials and residents was the state's behind-closed-door negotiations for the land with several landowners, one of whom is a major campaign contributor to Republican Gov. Tom Miller, once a leading candidate for George W. Bush's vice presidential running mate.

"People here were shocked that [the state] backed down on [the land deal]," Ken Hoffman, a Girard resident, said "They were waiting for the land deal to happen.

Maj. Gen. William Lynch, state adjutant general of the Guard, blamed the decision to abandon the tank-training project on public outcry and environmental issues.

"Our experience has been that [public] opposition would make the difficult job of obtaining federal funding nearly impossible," Lynch claimed.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Camille "Bud" George, a Democrat, whose district lies just south of the proposed tank-facility site, blasted the Ridge administration and the Guard for wasting $430,000 of taxpayers' money before abandoning the project.

"From Day 1, the Ridge administration and the Guard were told that the site in Goshen and Girard townships were the wrong one and at the wrong price," George said. "Now, more than 12 months and $430,000 later, they agree the people were correct."

The Ridge administration negotiated in secret to pay more than $1.38 million to C. Alan Walker, who owns the majority of the 4,700 acres of land for the Guard site. Walker and his father, Ray, are known for their contributions and close ties to Ridge.

The secret contracts with the Ridge administration guaranteed the younger Walker and other landowners of the property $435,857, or 10 percent of the purchase price, despite the state's abandoning the purchase.

Glyn Powell, a coal-mining businessman, offered to sell his land in the southern portion of the county for the Guard facility at a cheaper site. The state would pay Powell $600 an acre compared to $800 an acre sought by Walker and his associates.

Guard officials publicly stated that Powell's property offered "the best training area for our soldiers and our equipment."

Two environmental studies, costing the state $20,614, discovered some potential problems with the 4,700-acre property.

The Guard proceeded with its purchase plans after officials in the two townships approved resolutions opposing the planned purchase and after Lynch testified before the state House Appropriations Committee that "if the neighbors let us know why they don't want us there, we'll go away," George pointed out.

He said the Guard is welcomed in Clearfield County if residents and local officials are part of "an open and fair process."

"All Pennsylvanians lose when its government conducts its business behind closed doors, resorts to lies by inflating economic-impact figures and sponsors bogus hearings," he said.

In May, the Pennsylvania House approved George's amendment that would require the state to advertise planned purchases of land costing more than $100,000.

Born in Washington, D.C., Margo Turner grew up in Towson, Md., which is 10 miles of Baltimore City. She is a 1976 graduate of Towson University, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in mass communications. She currently lives in a Maryland suburb of Washington where she's a veteran journalist with experience covering Congress and federal agencies.

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