BGE takes charge of utilities for base

50-year deal by Army part of nationwide privatization initiative

Fort Meade

April 30, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The Army took one step closer to getting out of the utilities business yesterday when it signed a 50-year, multimillion-dollar contract granting Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. control of the utilities at Fort Meade.

The move is expected to save the Army millions of dollars and bring an upgrade to an 80-year- old gas and electric delivery system that engineers say is deteriorating. It's part of an Army-wide push to privatize basic services so the military can focus on its core mission: defense.

"This is just one step in the privatization process," said Fort Meade Installation Commander Col. John W. Ives. "It gets the Army out of providing infrastructure that is not our core competency."

Under the program, BGE will not own Fort Meade's antiquated system. Instead, it will design, build, own, operate and maintain a new gas and electric delivery system over the next three years. Both systems will be underground; currently, only the base's gas delivery system is underground.

Working with contractors, employees from the Army's Department of Public Works will oversee the transfer. After three years, BGE employees will manage the system, which provides power to 350 offices and 3,100 homes.

While Ives estimates the change will save millions of dollars in maintenance costs, he said he doesn't expect layoffs. Public works employees who handle the transfer likely will stay on in other capacities when the work is finished, he said.

The utilities privatization took eight years to complete, partly because the government was feeling its way through privatization.

But it also took awhile because the task ahead is mammoth: Fort Meade's system has 280,000 feet of gas lines, 350,000 feet of electric lines and at least a dozen transformers to maintain.

Yesterday's signing ceremony marked the end of years of planning and the beginning of implementation.

"Our relationship is solidified with Meade, and we're ready to start work," said BGE President and CEO Frank Heintz.

The BGE deal is part of the process of privatization that is transforming military bases nationwide, as the Department of Defense recognizes that private sector companies can design and construct new infrastructure faster than the government.

Fort Meade also is undergoing a $3 billion, 50-year overhaul of base housing under a private contract with Rhode Island-based Picerne Real Estate Group. The base will be one of the first in the nation to privatize its housing. The first home is expected to be built this summer.

Joe Moyer, who is managing the utility project for the Army, said the real work is just beginning.

As he stood next to the jumble of transformers tucked behind a thicket in a far corner of the sprawling base yesterday, he listened to a faint hum. About 90 percent of Fort Meade's power comes from that sub-station, zapping from a BGE tower to the government's lines. In three years, it will be gone, and Moyer is just fine with that.

Pointing to the equipment he said, "You can't get any older than this."

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