BRAC funding for APG is `the big question'

Despite concerns, officials endorse a plan for Chesapeake Science, Security Corridor

April 26, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,sun reporter

A master plan for expanding Aberdeen Proving Ground is in place, with needs assessed and costs estimated, often in hundreds of millions of dollars. But funding for the growth that is under way in Maryland remains absent from the conversation.

At a regional conference yesterday in Essex on the nationwide base realignment known as BRAC, officials from Harford, Cecil and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City pledged cooperation as they endorsed the plan to make Interstate 95 and U.S. 40 pathways to the so-called Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor.

Before a crowd of 400 business and community leaders at Martin's East, Army administrators detailed how Aberdeen Proving Ground will grow by thousands of jobs, both on and off the Harford County base. But as has been the case at several recent gatherings of leaders discussing BRAC planning, no one could say where the money will come from.

"Funding is the big question, and unless they cut funds from the war effort, I don't see where they are going to get the money," said Harford Councilman Dion Guthrie.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown called BRAC "the single largest economic development opportunity since World War II" for Maryland. Local jurisdictions must be able to address the impact on roads, schools and utilities, he said. Brown, who is chairman of the governor's BRAC committee, said officials have identified $16 billion in transportation improvements alone.

"It is our responsibility to be prepared for the arrival of our new neighbors," Brown said.

By fall, the BRAC committee expects to deliver a comprehensive plan with legislative and budget priorities, he said.

The Army is moving forward and adhering to a strict timetable. Groundbreaking is set for next month on an office and laboratory complex at APG, the first of more than $750 million in construction projects scheduled for completion within the next four years.

"We are talking about completing the move no later than Sept. 15, 2011," said Jared Olsen, the proving ground's BRAC program manager for the Army Corps of Engineers. "That's not just construction completed but folks working in the buildings."

A year ago, there was no master plan. Now an environmental impact study, begun in September 2005, will be completed by August. The base is preparing for $47 million in road, gate and utility improvements and $300 million in upgrades to communications infrastructure and networking technology.

Representatives of Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger assured the audience that the Maryland congressional delegation is working to keep military construction funding on target and to develop a solid transportation system, including mass transit.

Yet when a member of the audience questioned Olsen on funding, he replied, "We are avoiding questions on funding issues. Everyone here knows the budget constraints at the federal level."

George Mercer, APG spokesman, said the Army will adhere to its BRAC commitment, despite uncertainties about funding.

"BRAC is going to happen, and it will be funded, maybe not with all the Army wants but certainly with all the money it needs," Mercer said.

Harford County is expected to become home to 65 percent of the 8,200 base newcomers, whose average annual salary will be about $86,000. The expansion also will draw thousands more civilian workers and military contractors.

Nearly half the newcomers will hold college degrees, and many will have advanced degrees. About 40 percent will be between 30 and 50 years old, according to an Army survey.

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