Residents worry about Tier 1's plans
The Herald (2008-02-04) Sarah Nagem
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More Info: Blackwater
By Sarah Nagem, Staff Reporter
Bentonville Township � Some residents of this quiet community aren't thrilled about a military-training group setting its sights on a 2,000-acre tract near their homes.
Tier 1 Group, which provides medical and firearms training to military and civilian workers, filed paperwork with the county Planning Board last week. The company, which is currently based in Jacksonville, wants to move its headquarters to Johnston because of the proximity to military bases and the rural terrain, said Leo Smith, a project manager for the company.
"It's an ideal location," Smith said.
But some people already disagree. Norman Denning, who served as a Johnston county commissioner from 1962 to 1998, lives on Harper House Road near the proposed site. Denning said he doesn't like the idea of a training facility so close to Camp Tuscarora, a Boy Scouts campground. Almost every weekend, boys gather at the camp, Denning said.
"There are a lot of reasons we don't want this thing here," Denning said. "It's not a selfish reason; it's a comfort reason."
Tier 1 Group provides sniper training as part of its curriculum, Smith said. Denning said he's worried about how far long-range bullets could really travel.
In a news release, the company's chief executive, Steve Reichert, said Tier 1 Group would provide safety measures to protect surrounding properties and property owners. "We want to be good neighbors, and we will take steps necessary to provide safety and security to our neighbors," Reichert said.
The tract of land in Bentonville is ideal because it is so wooded, Smith said. "Our operation needs a lot of buffer to have this kind of a training facility," he said.
Although the company's offices are in Jacksonville, it doesn't have a training facility, Smith said. Instructors go to clients' sites for training sessions. The site in Johnston would change that.
Along with marksmanship and sniper instruction, Tier 1 Group provides first-responder medical training and tactical training. Some of the instructors are former Navy SEALs and U.S. Marines.
If the company builds in Johnston, it would likely have a driving course that local law enforcement could use for training, Smith said. Many sheriff's offices lack this type of a driving course, he said.
But that's not enough to convince Denning. "We just don't want any Blackwater or any cousin of it in this community," he said.
Blackwater Worldwide, a private North Carolina-based company that provides military training and security, faced criticism last year for its work in Iraq. Unlike Blackwater, Tier 1 Group does not offer overseas services.
Denning said he and about a dozen other local residents had met with the property owner, Goldsboro businessman Bill Lane. Although he's against Tier 1 Group setting up shop in his neighborhood, Denning said he doesn't plan to take on a leadership role in opposing it. He said he will likely attend the Planning Board meeting on March 18, though, when the board will consider the rezoning request.
County commissioners would have to give final approval for the project. Commissioner Wade Stewart, who represents the Bentonville area, said he encouraged the company to talk to property owners. "The applicants did not get a really warm reception," he said.
Stewart said it's too early to say whether he thinks the project is a good idea. "Obviously, as a commissioner I've got to listen to my neighbors and constituents," he said. "I want to look out for the best interest of [them]."
The land in Bentonville would allow Tier 1 Group to be centrally located between Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Smith said.
If Tier 1 Group comes to Johnston, it will make a $5 million investment and could employ up to 50 people.
"I don't know," Denning said. "It might be a wonderful thing. But I don't believe it."
To learn more, visit the company's Web site.