In a standoff that might require delicate diplomacy to resolve, officials in Western Maryland are pressing the federal government to reconsider its refusal to help pay for local security costs for this week's G-8 summit at Camp David.
Local police say they are ready for expected protests of the Group of Eight industrialized nations gathering that begins Friday and ends Saturday night — the highest-profile event held at the presidential retreat in years — but they are not eager to pick up the tab. They say overtime and equipment could cost tens of thousands of dollars — a big hit to small-town budgets.
The summit will bring world leaders to the quiet and remote Catoctin Mountain Park north of Frederick as European nations are struggling with the escalating debt crisis in Greece. Negotiators will remain out of public view at Camp David, but protesters plan to rally miles away in communities unaccustomed to the sometimes violent confrontations that have accompanied global economic summits elsewhere.
"Camp David is the safest, most secure area on the planet," said Frederick County Sheriff Charles "Chuck" Jenkins. "My problem is, I'm responsible for the other 640 square miles."
Jenkins estimates that policing the county during the summit could cost up to $175,000.
"You plan for the worst case," he said.
The dispute is drawing attention from some members of Maryland's congressional delegation, including Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, who sent a letter to the White House this week calling on the Obama administration to consider the burden the meeting has put on local police.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat, said he is also in touch with federal agencies about the issue.
Protest organizers, including those in the Occupy movement, say they plan to demonstrate peacefully outside the summit, picketing on sidewalks in Thurmont, east of Camp David, and holding a "Peoples' Summit" at a library in Frederick. Some activists say they will camp on land made available by an area farmer.
Neither police nor protest organizers would say how many demonstrators are expected.
Thurmont residents said the flags of the G-8 nations are hanging in the town center alongside a banner welcoming visitors. Local businesses have new town maps ready to hand out to visitors, and storefronts have been "spruced up," said Cindy McKane-Wagester, a town official.
A nonprofit that focuses on global hunger spray-painted messages along a one-mile stretch of Route 77 near the town. World hunger is an issue that will be discussed at the summit, and the group received permission from state and local authorities to paint the road.
Past global economic meetings have received a special designation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that entitles local law enforcement agencies to be compensated for security costs.
This year's G-8 summit had received that designation when it was scheduled to take place in Chicago days before a separate NATO summit still scheduled there next week. But the designation did not follow the event to Western Maryland after the Obama administration announced in March that it would move the G-8 gathering to the more intimate Camp David.
The site in the Catoctin Mountains, about 60 miles northwest of Baltimore, was converted into a presidential retreat by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940s. More recently, presidents have used it to host informal meetings with fellow world leaders.
Area officials acknowledge that the U.S. Secret Service will handle the bulk of the security. Because Camp David is not open to the public and Catoctin Mountain Park will be closed during the meeting, the nearest protesters will be miles away. Officials predict that will limit the number of activists who turn out.
Local officials said there was virtually no sign of demonstrations on Thursday, aside from a man dressed as a Buddhist monk with a pro-peace, anti-nuclear weapons banner around his neck. What was noticeable: an increased presence of police and members of the news media.
"There's not a lot of people on the streets or anything," said Town Commissioner John Kinnaird, owner of R.S. Kinnaird Memorials, located two blocks from the town center. "There is a marked increase in police."
Police recall violent anti-globalization protests that took place during past meetings — such as the 2001 G-8 summit in Italy, where an activist was shot to death during a clash with security forces — and say it is their responsibility to plan for potential problems.
That is especially true for small communities like Thurmont, which has 10 officers.
"I'm concerned about it," Thurmont Police Chief Gregory L. Eyler said of the costs. "The burden was placed on us."
He says his department will spend about $10,000 on preparations and overtime.
Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, would not discuss why the summit did not receive the Special Security Event designation. Local governments may apply for homeland security grants that can be used to cover the cost of policing events such as the G-8 summit, he said.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley said local, state and federal officials are working closely to plan for the event. State police will be on hand to augment local departments, and more can be called in quickly if things get out of hand, Raquel Guillory said.
"There's no intel to indicate that ... there will be a major interruption of services during the summit," she said. "Our public safety and emergency crews continue to monitor the event closely and are available to deploy resources quickly if needed."
But communities near Camp David are preparing for some disruption, even if it is just congestion caused by the volume of people descending on the area. Frederick County public schools will be closed Friday. Some roads will be closed; others could be jammed. City officials in Frederick have asked businesses to pull sandwich board signs and outdoor seating from sidewalks.
"This is very disruptive to our communities," said Bartlett, who represents Western Maryland, including Frederick County. "It's going to mean an increase in costs, because if there are meaningful protests you need to be prepared for them."
Cardin said he is in touch with state and federal agencies "regarding the potential for federal grants that would help reimburse the community for extraordinary costs."
Kevin Zeese, an organizer with the Occupy Washington movement, said he has had no indication that a large police presence will be necessary.
Zeese, an attorney who will join protesters in Western Maryland and then in Chicago for the NATO summit next week, said plans call for face-painting for children and a series of lectures at the library.
"To be very clear, it's nonviolent," Zeese said. "It's family-friendly."
Frederick Police Chief Kim Dine agrees with that assessment. Dine said his department is communicating with most of the groups who intend to protest and that the various police agencies are working together well. But he said there still are costs associated with planning for the meeting.
"We're hoping for it to be a nonevent. Things are peaceful here in Frederick," Dine said. But "I certainly see a ... responsibility in providing some federal assistance."
G8 summit in Md.
•The 38th G8 summit will take place Friday and Saturday at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Frederick County.
•Leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States will meet. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will not attend.
•Protesters will hold a "People's Summit" in Frederick and will picket in nearby Thurmont.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun