Funding BRAC growth at issue

State studies options for getting private developers on bases to share cost

October 05, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

The O'Malley administration is reviewing its options for getting private developers on military bases to share the costs of highway upgrades and other infrastructure needed to accommodate growth, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown said yesterday.

Speaking at a base-realignment planning meeting in Annapolis, Brown said private developers winning long-term leases from the Army and other military services to build offices, laboratories, hotels, restaurants and stores on bases in Maryland need to "shoulder their responsibility" for handling the off-base traffic generated by their projects.

The lieutenant governor said administration officials are reviewing the law to see if the state government can seek payments from private developers on military bases for such impacts on surrounding communities.

"The law isn't clear," he said, even though the legislature in 2005 approved tax exemptions for private contractors on bases as they were building or renovating homes for military families.

The "enhanced use lease" deals negotiated by the Army for large private office complexes at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County promise to bring as many as 10,000 workers to each of those bases. Yet each county stands to miss out on $5 million to $6 million annually in property taxes from the projects because the base lands are tax-exempt.

Talks in works

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold told Brown and the O'Malley administration's base-realignment subcabinet that he and the commander of Fort Meade are talking now about whether the developer of a 2 million-square-foot office complex on one corner of the post will help pay for road widenings and signal upgrades to handle increased traffic from the project in the surrounding community.

"We welcome the jobs in Anne Arundel County," Leopold said, noting that many of the new jobs as a result of the federal Base Realignment and Closure effort carry high salaries. "The challenge is to provide the infrastructure."

The lieutenant governor said state officials are not interested in a confrontation but want to reach an equitable agreement, and he is confident that the developers and the military feel the same way.

`Striking a balance'

"It's about striking a balance," the lieutenant governor said, so that all levels of government and the private developers share equitably in the burden of managing the growth expected on and around the state's military bases in the next five to seven years.

"No private entity at Fort Meade would be comfortable with a traffic backup two miles outside the gate," he said.

"There's no desire to kill the golden goose on anybody's part," said Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy, commander of Fort Meade. The lease deal he is negotiating with Texas-based developer Trammell Crow will help maintain youth recreation programs for base families and provide badly needed improvements to other buildings and facilities.

An Army warning

McCreedy said Army officials are exploring how to ease the burden of providing road and transit improvements to handle the influx of as many as 22,000 workers on and around the 5,000-acre installation, but he warned that whatever funds state and local governments extracted from the developer to help with off-base projects would reduce the base's take from the deal.

A Pasadena-based business consultant, meanwhile, complained to the planning group that state minority-owned businesses and contractors fear they are not getting a share of the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal construction contracts being awarded to build offices and laboratories on the bases for the incoming workers.

"Some contracts have been issued already, and the contracts are being issued to out-of-state contractors," said Perry Ealim, who says his firm, Merge Business Development Systems, helps small businesses. The state's minority-owned and woman-owned businesses "need to have a chance to prove themselves," he added.

Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $477.5 million contract to a Washington-based development team to design and build an office and laboratory complex at Aberdeen Proving Ground for the high-tech military jobs to be moved there from Fort Monmouth in New Jersey.

Luwanda W. Jenkins, O'Malley's special secretary for minority affairs, said that the administration has pledged to apply the state's 25 percent minority set-aside goal to any base-related highway or other infrastructure projects when state or federal funds are involved.

Federal rules

Military construction contracts are governed by federal rules meant to steer a similar share of government contracts to "small and disadvantaged" businesses.

But the private developments being built on bases under leases from the Army are not subject to federal contracting rules, said David J. Ruderman, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District, which is handling the Army's lease deals.

Jenkins said that state officials are working with Maryland's congressional delegation and with base commanders to try to ensure that minority-owned businesses are offered a chance to compete for work on base projects.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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