NORTH EAST -- Cecil County officials appealed yesterday for state help in handling some of the growth expected to spill into the county as military base realignment brings thousands of defense jobs to nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Meeting with the O'Malley administration's base realignment subcabinet, county officials asked the state to extend MARC commuter rail service through Cecil, lift tolls on Interstate 95 and allow the county to expand sewage treatment plants for commercial and residential development.
"For many years we were content to be a sleepy Eastern Shore county," said William Manlove, president of the Cecil board of commissioners. Base realignment is expected to change that.
With more than 9,000 military, civilian and contractor jobs expected to move in the next four years to and around Aberdeen Proving Ground in neighboring Harford County, Cecil officials said they hope to land some of the defense contracting firms - and expect to get some of the workers' families, too.
"We want to accommodate managed growth in designated growth areas," said Vernon Thompson, Cecil's economic development director. With more than half the county's working residents employed outside of Cecil, county officials hope some local job growth will actually reduce traffic and highway congestion.
State planners have estimated that Cecil could get nearly 2,000 of the 28,000 new households expected to accompany up to 60,000 jobs moving to Maryland as a result of the nationwide base shake-up. The county's population of 100,000 was already projected to grow by 10 percent or more over the same period, putting development pressure on the horse pastures and farm fields that still cover most of the landscape in the state's northeastern corner.
"It's rural, and we kind of like it that way," said Manlove.
The county has two major development projects in the works that could handle defense contractors and their families. Construction is expected to begin this fall at the 1,200-acre former Bainbridge Naval Training Center, officials said, where up to 4 million square feet of commercial space, 1,250 housing units and a 1,000-unit retirement community are planned. Another 1,000-acre business park is planned on U.S. 40.
County officials urged the state to ease the commute from Cecil to Aberdeen by extending commuter rail service through the county to Wilmington, Del.
They also renewed a long-standing plea to either lift the $5 toll on northbound I-95 traffic or at least move the toll plaza elsewhere. About 85,000 vehicles cross the Susquehanna River on I-95 daily, and another 36,000 use U.S. 40, officials said. Officials have long complained that tolls collected on I-95 and on the U.S. 40 bridge across the Susquehanna River have discouraged businesses and residents from locating there.
Growth in Cecil faces substantial challenges, however, because of limitations on water supply and state-imposed caps on sewage treatment capacity in the county, officials said.
State environmental officials have proposed putting a ceiling on sewage treatment plant discharges to reduce nutrients fouling the Chesapeake Bay.
County officials say the treatment plant caps could stymie efforts to attract new businesses and contain residential sprawl. Developers will build houses using septic systems, if sewage capacity is not available, they warned, encouraging the conversion of more farmland to low-density suburbia.
"We want to do the right thing - we want to do the Smart Growth thing," Thompson said.
Robert Summers, deputy environment secretary, said the state is still talking with county officials about how to permit growth without weakening the bay cleanup effort. Plans are being drafted that might allow Cecil to offset some of its hoped-for growth by reducing sewage discharges elsewhere - possibly even in another county or state.
Meanwhile, a higher education official said Maryland's colleges, universities and community colleges will be challenged to train new workers for the defense-related jobs on top of the robust growth in enrollments already straining the system.
With enrollment at the state's two- and four-year institutions at an all-time high last fall of 320,000 students, planners project it could grow by another 56,000 over the next decade.
"This will stretch the capacity at all of our institutions," said David E. Sumler, assistant secretary for planning and academic affairs with the Maryland Higher Education Commission.firstname.lastname@example.org