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.