Center to come to Fort Pickett

Published 11:05 am Thursday, February 11, 2016

Local leaders are cheering the announcement that the selection of Fort Pickett as the nation’s foreign affairs training center is finally official.

“We know that Nottoway County government officials and staff, with support from Virginia and United States representatives, worked diligently to acquire this significant economic development project,” Lunenburg County Administrator Tracy Gee said. “As a fellow member of Virginia’s Growth Alliance, our regional economic development partnership, Lunenburg is proud of our neighbor’s good news because regional growth can translate to local growth.”

As the project progresses, Virginia’s Growth Alliance and Lunenburg County will consider projected outcomes and planning modifications that may become necessary for the region, Gee said.

The Lunenburg County Board of Supervisors, Community Development Director Beverley Hawthorne, and planning commission members discussed the potential for changes and additions to the county’s joint comprehensive plan and zoning revisions when this project was in its early stages.

“County representatives will remain proactive to plan appropriately on behalf of the citizens,” Gee said.

On Thursday, February 4, members of Virginia’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement hailing the decision to build a foreign affairs security training center — known as FASTC — at Ft. Pickett in Blackstone as a “culmination of (the) delegation’s fight against attempts to derail construction in Blackstone.”

The facility, cost of which could exceed $460 million, will be used to train foreign service personnel to detect surveillance, provide emergency medical care, increase identification skills to recognize improvised explosive devices, participate in firearms training and perform defensive/counterterrorist driving maneuvers, the delegation quoted the State Department’s website as saying.

The FASTC is expected to utilize over 1,500 acres.

The Virginia delegation spent months fighting attempts to derail the construction of a FASTC at Fort Pickett.

“My first reaction last week wa,s ‘Heck yeah, finally.’ It’s a great opportunity for Blackstone, Nottoway County, and the surrounding area,” said Blackstone Mayor Billy Coleburn said. “It’s the equivalent of a half-billion dollar industry locating here — one that will hire 339 people and make possible a number of other private, tax-paying ventures that also will employ area residents and contribute to the quality of life here.”

Coleburn said the State Depart and General Services Administration continue to say the facility will mean 1,600 construction jobs and a weekly population of 600.

“There is strong and renewed interest in the Blackstone area among a number of investors,” Coleburn said. “Obviously, due to the up-and-down nature of this project over the past five years, there remains some anxiety, particularly among LOCAL entrepreneurs. A previously-planned 450-room dormitory is not in the latest plans. However, many remember what the federal government did at Fort Lee: after years of patronizing hotels, building a large housing complex that upset many in the hotel and hospitality business.”

Coleburn said it is too early to tell how the project will improve the plight of the average person in the region’s workforce, but he notes, “There will be a wide range of jobs.”

“From what I understand, many or at least some will be federal jobs with federal benefits,” he said. “I’ve been told that one-half of those currently employed in FASTC-related endeavors will not relocate to Blackstone. This can create more opportunities for local residents. Of course, qualifications are key.”

FASTC will strengthen the viability of Fort Pickett and increase training at the base, he said.

“More people coming here to train means more people contributing to the region’s economy and discovering the great quality of life here — low crime, low traffic, low taxes and relatively cheap land,” Coleburn said. “The true positive impact of FASTC won’t be measured here for several years, perhaps decades.