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June 17, 2009
Supervisors hear from O’Gara proponents
WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Virginia (STPNS) -- As noted in last week’s reporting, the O’Gara topic once again proved to be the top subject at the monthly meeting of Westmoreland County’s Board of Supervisors.
The public comment portion of the meeting was almost totally devoted to O’Gara pros and cons. The for-profit paramilitary training establishment has contracted to buy 350 Westmoreland County acres no later than July 1, 2009. The next Board of Supervisors meeting won’t be convened until twelve days after the contract’s closing date.
With that timeline clearly in mind, passions ran high last Monday. The meeting room was nearly filled. The dominance of strong Anti-O’Gara sentiments was readily apparent, but on that Monday evening there were multiple O’Gara proponents who came forward to articulate the harsh sentiments they harbor toward their own O’Gara opposition neighbors.
The severity of the ill will expressed by those O’Gara proponents threatens to polarize what was previously perceived as a quiet and harmonious rural community. The damage to long-standing relationships could take many years to heal.
Despite the opposition’s voluminous body of research on the O’Gara topic, proponent Marion Dongieux expressed disdain for the quality of those people’s scholarship.
After commending county officials for recruiting The O’Gara Group, Dongieux commented, “I have been astonished at the campaign by the opponents and their efforts to mislead the population with distorted facts and inflammatory rhetoric.
“It does not appear that these people have sought out the facts pertaining to the personnel and operations of O’Gara or the attitudes of the citizens of south Boston, [where O’Gara is currently located].
“If [the opponents have made an effort to seek out the facts], then for some inexplicable reason they have chosen to ignore these facts and continue with their message of misinformation.
“[The opponents] have insulted Senator Stuart, the Board of Supervisors and others,” Dongieux continued. “They have made veiled threats [about the next election] and they are wrong in their message and I call upon the opponents to do something beneficial for the community.
“I commend the staff and Board for spending a lot of time pursuing the facts for this community.”
Chris Anton spoke in favor of the O’Gara plans, advising that he had contacted the Halifax County Zoning Administrator who offered assurance that O’Gara’s Halifax establishment is comprised of “a good group of folks” who have caused no problems in that jurisdiction.
Anton then characterized the Westmoreland County O’Gara opponents’ assertions as “outrageous claims and accusations.” He took issue with the opposition’s perception that O’Gara is in the business of earning a profit as a result of war, citing instead the establishment’s work as a government and United States armed services contractor.
Dave O’Dell spoke as an insider when he related that 29 of the 32 years he has spent in Montross have been devoted to Montross Town Council service. He suggested that O’Gara opponents have defamed the integrity of county officials but that he has first-hand knowledge of their integrity and honor.
“Misleading and erroneous things have been said,” O’Dell related. “Emotions have replaced reason.”
O’Dell warned the Supervisors that if they acquiesce to the political pressure that is coming from the opposition, the county’s elected officials will lose the support and respect they currently enjoy from the community as a whole.
The seasoned elected official from the Town of Montross assured the Westmoreland Supervisors that it is proper to conduct closed sessions to pursue economic development considerations with entities such as O’Gara.
He delivered additional assurances that the proposed O’Gara activity fits will with county zoning’s definition of a school and subsequent by-right use of Agricultural, A-1 land. The Hutt law office employee then stated that the Freedom of Information Act does not require public officials to produce documents that don’t exist.
“The majority of this county’s residents support you in your effort to bring economic growth to the area,” O’Dell told the Westmoreland Supervisors.
Attorney Johnny Hutt followed O’Dell to the podium. Hutt shared an account of the county government’s acquisition of its industrial park property fifteen years ago for the purpose of trying to improve the job market in Westmoreland County.
Hutt recounted the O’Gara Group intention to transform the industrial park’s unoccupied shell building into a school and to establish its shooting ranges, driving courses and other facilities on the adjacent property.
“Other opportunities have come and gone because of the same attitude,” said Hutt of the O’Gara opposition. Addressing the public’s safety, he cited the 50,000 lives that are lost in a typical year as the result of traffic accidents that occur when people are driving to and from their jobs.
“But there have been no deaths associated with [O’Gara’s training] activities,” he said.
“The people in this county need jobs. We need [this kind of] light industry and we need professionals in this particular area.
“Our county hasn’t been able to do what it needs to do to give our young people what they need to do [to earn a living] here,” Hutt continued. He told the Supervisors that his parents’ nine grandchildren all live and work outside the Westmoreland County bounds.
Hutt then purported the O’Gara proposal represents the kind of economic growth that will enable an emerging generation to find meaningful employment opportunities in their native Westmoreland County.
John Krainock expressed similar sentiments. He recalled the Best Industries debate, which he said occurred eight years ago.
“Another company came to the county,” he stated. “They wanted to assemble radioactive seeds that are used for treating prostate cancer. The opponents made it known they didn’t want radioactivity coming down their highways.
The Cancer Center [that has since located in Montross generates] more radioactivity [than Best Industries would have generated if they had located in the county’s industrial park],” Krainock then advised.
“Every time somebody comes here with an interest to buy [the shell building and its surrounding industrial park remnant], somebody says, ‘No.’ Such an attitude isn’t business friendly,” he told the Westmoreland County Supervisors.
“Such an attitude is not business friendly, and if you say, ‘No,’ this time to O’Gara, you will never have anyone come to you again.
“Is O’Gara the best thing that could happen in Westmoreland County?” Krainock queried.
“The answer to that question is probably, ‘No,’ but is O’Gara the worst thing that could happen to Westmoreland? That answer is clearly, ‘No,’ because we need somebody to come here and buy that building. If O’Gara doesn’t come, we’ll never get another business here,” the Kinsale area resident explained.
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