Panel to help prepare for BRAC

Task force will focus on helping area plan for base expansion

November 29, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

Three local jurisdictions, led by Anne Arundel County, have agreed to establish a regional task force to help secure funding to prepare for a massive military expansion at Fort Meade.

As part of an announcement Monday in Odenton, County Executive Janet S. Owens said Anne Arundel officials have submitted a preliminary request for at least $1 million in federal funding for planning studies and to hire administrative staff to prepare for the growth.

The establishment of the regional Grant Advisory Task Force is crucial to netting more federal money to prepare for a wave of 20,000 defense workers who will descend on Fort Meade over the next five years.

The five-member panel - which will include the executives for Howard and Anne Arundel counties and Laurel Mayor Craig A. Moe - will explore funding options with the Office of Economic Adjustment, the Department of Defense agency that offers aid to communities affected by the Base Realignment and Closure process, also known as BRAC.

The other two members of the task force will be the BRAC liaisons for the two counties.

J. Michael Hayes, director of military and federal affairs for the state's economic development agency, said the OEA has encouraged local governments to form regional partnerships to make funding requests. He added that the state is working on making a request to the OEA.

"I am pleased with the cooperation, and I hope it continues," said Owens, a two-term Democrat who will be succeeded next week by Republican John R. Leopold.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey is also stepping down next week. He will be succeeded by Democrat Ken Ulman.

"The challenge of providing especially the transportation infrastructure and education is going to be critical to making [BRAC] something that we all appreciate and not something that we will not all feel bad about happening to the area," Robey said. "It's going to be good, and we are going to be prepared for it. We just need the money to get it done."

Local officials said the $1 million would be spent on studies for transportation, work-force issues, housing and staff support. Those reports will be crucial in helping the jurisdictions make the case to the State House and Congress for hundreds of millions of dollars needed for infrastructure and service improvements.

Several transportation priorities are known: the widening of Route 175, Route 198 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and expanding mass transit around the Army post, including the extension of the Washington-area Metro Green Line from Greenbelt to Fort Meade and on to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

"We all know where the impact will be," said Pamela Rau, Owens' executive assistant who has overseen BRAC planning. "We just want to be prepared for it."

Anne Arundel officials are in the process of refining the initial grant request to the OEA. As the home of Fort Meade, Anne Arundel is tasked with making the grant request, but the money will be divided among Anne Arundel and Howard counties and Laurel.

Anne Arundel officials initially hoped this spring to petition for OEA funding. At the time, Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. warned that funds could dry up because of funding requests from other BRAC-affected communities, along with budget demands related to Hurricane Katrina relief and the war in Iraq.

Harford County received a $300,000 grant from the OEA in August for planning at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where an estimated 30,000 government and private-sector workers will be relocating by 2012.

County Councilman-elect G. James "Jamie" Benoit, a Piney Orchard Democrat who will represent the area around Fort Meade, said he was pleased the county made its petition to the OEA. He was disappointed, however, that Anne Arundel officials did not make their request more swiftly.

"The writing has been on the wall," Benoit said. "Those grants are as equally available" to Anne Arundel County as to other jurisdictions.

Anne Arundel, though, has been seen as ahead of the curve in preparing for the base-related growth. At least $17 million in local and federal funding has been directed toward widening Routes 175 and 198, and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. dedicated $1 million to study a Green Line expansion.

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