Harford sees challenges ahead

Advisory report seeks to prepare county for explosive growth expected at APG

August 23, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

After eight months assessing Harford County's readiness to accommodate the unprecedented growth coming to Aberdeen Proving Ground, county officials delivered a report yesterday that is heavy on challenges and light on solutions.

Calling for continued reviews, development of plans and sustained dialogue, the Base Realignment and Closure Planning and Advisory Commission's 30-page report identified a litany of lingering county issues expected to be magnified as jobs pour into the area over the next decade. If there was a theme that emerged, it was the reinforcement that Harford's needs are staggering.

"A lot of the recommendations are, `We need more information,'" J. Thomas Sadowski, the commission chairman, said as he presented the report at the Higher Education and Applied Technology Center in Aberdeen. "This will be an ongoing and evolving discussion."

An estimated 30,000 government and private-sector jobs are expected to land in and around APG over the next decade, with some beginning to trickle in and most expected by 2012. The crush is expected to further strain an already fast-growing county in which many infrastructure improvements would be sorely needed regardless of the military-related growth. More than $200 million has been pledged for school construction alone.

In November, County Executive David R. Craig created the commission through an executive order, appointing leaders from government and the business community to study issues relating to land use, transportation and infrastructure, education and work force readiness, and public safety and health.

"We wanted to give the gamut of best-case and worst-case scenarios so everyone can plan accordingly," said Sheriff R. Thomas Golding, who chaired the public safety subcommittee.

The findings reached far and wide, from linkages between APG and local roadways, to revitalization efforts along the U.S. 40 corridor, to staffing and recruiting issues related to police, fire and emergency medical services.

Yesterday, officials said they would seek public input, likely through town hall-style meetings early next year, and will work to bring regional counterparts to the planning table. Baltimore, Cecil and Harford counties previously pledged to jointly market the region to prospective residents and employers.

The commission's initial findings will serve as a baseline for discussions, as well as documentation when applying for federal and state money, Craig said.

Harford has been approved for a $300,000 grant from the Office of Economic Adjustment, a Department of Defense agency that provides assistance to communities affected by the base realignment and closure process. The money will be used to hire a manager to handle realignment-and-closure issues.

"There has to be a justification and validation for what they're asking for," said John Leigh, a program manager with the Office of Economic Adjustment. "This study is the nucleus of what we're going to see."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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