Tour gives O'Malley bird's-eye view of APG

April 27, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

To better understand the sweeping impact of the nationwide military base expansion on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Gov. Martin O'Malley boarded an Army helicopter yesterday and toured the 72,000-acre facility in Harford County from the air.

From the jump seat of the Huey, O'Malley, clad in a brown bomber jacket with an Air National Guard insignia, viewed the sites for the estimated $750 million in new construction at the proving ground, as well as buildings set for demolition.

He gauged the distance to major highways - Interstate 95 and U.S. 40 - and spotted the roads, gates and bridges that need improvements. While 800 feet above ground, the governor glimpsed the Chesapeake Bay, the Bush River, rail lines, wetlands and the base's growing population of bald eagles, one of which accompanied the copter for part of the 45-minute flight.

The base realignment, known as BRAC, is expected to bring thousands of military, civilian and contractor jobs to the base and as many as 30,000 new residents to Harford County. A similar influx is expected at Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

"There will be 45,000 to 60,000 jobs for Maryland, the largest percentage of which will be in this area," O'Malley said. "The numbers present a significant challenge. To be up front with you, we haven't figured out the answers yet."

Harford County's proposed $370 million capital budget this year includes many BRAC-related projects - new schools and roads and upgraded utilities.

Harford County Executive David R. Craig, who went along for the helicopter ride, said the tour would "show the governor what is going to happen on base. It will be the engine that will keep Maryland's economy going for years."

O'Malley said "the aerial perspective shows how it all fits together and the proximity to highways so that I have a clearer sense and a better understanding of BRAC and its impact on infrastructure."

The helicopter doors remained open for the flight, giving passengers a great view but a chilly ride, said Rick Abbruzzese, the governor's spokesman. The Huey frequently hovered so the group could watch a tank going through high-speed maneuvers or soldiers test firing on one of the many weapon ranges, all with commentary from officers, he said.

"We could see the way the base meets the county and the cities in Harford," Abbruzzese said.

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