Md. focuses on regional planning

At base realignment meeting, officials encourage cooperation in face of coming influx

April 24, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Despite facing huge financial gaps in preparing for the influx of people and jobs coming via the federal base realignment and closure process, Maryland is using the changes "to do regional planning we should do anyway," a Maryland congressman told about 175 people gathered for a semiannual BRAC summit yesterday in Crownsville.

"BRAC has become a very useful vehicle," said freshman Rep. John Sarbanes. "It's teaching us how to cooperate across regional, political and administrative lines," and "jumps the state forward. I'm doing a lot of learning and listening."

That was a common theme at the Maryland Military Installation Council meeting - the first held since fall's elections brought new leaders to federal, state and local governments.

Nearly 80 percent of Maryland officials planning for the BRAC changes are different since the group's last meeting in September, said retired Marine Brig. Gen. J. Michael Hayes, who directs the group for the Department of Business and Economic Development. But he added that no momentum has been lost. "I don't think we've missed a beat. Nothing has been lost, in my mind," he said, because key staff members are still in place.

"Four years from now we're going to look back and say we set up a good process," said Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who chaired the session at the state's Housing Department headquarters.

As if to emphasize that, officials from Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania are scheduled to sign a new cooperation agreement tomorrow to work on the transition at Aberdeen Proving Ground - a major recipient of BRAC jobs.

Still, the state's key department heads - planning, transportation and environment - are new, as are Gov. Martin O'Malley and Brown. In addition, the county executives of Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Howard counties are new, as is Baltimore's mayor.

BRAC and federal expansions at the National Security Agency are expected to bring up to 60,000 more jobs to various parts of the state, changing life from Cecil to St. Mary's counties along the way. The major impact will come between 2009 and 2015, according to a council document.

But where leaders of most areas worry about congestion problems that will accompany the economic growth, Baltimore City officials see the process as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank.

The city has the infrastructure, he said, but needs more people. Baltimore lost 8,000 residents last year, he said, but is investing $250,000 to help market the city and identify people moving to the area "who have the urban gene."

Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said the state needs about $16.2 billion for BRAC-related transportation improvements and about $40 billion for backlogged transportation projects statewide.

The federal government isn't likely to supply the money needed for new roads, trains, schools and other BRAC-related infrastructure before the new residents arrive, summit participants said. At the same time, Maryland is facing a revenue crunch starting next year, when revenues are expected to dip below spending by up to $1.5 billion.

"We're going to be faced with a very significant problem," state Sen. John C. Astle, an Anne Arundel Democrat, told the group as the nearly four-hour meeting ended.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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