By Raymond McCaffrey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 24, 2007
The Pentagon's base realignment plan will launch what has been called the largest job expansion in Maryland since World War II and will fuel a building boom needed to expand schools, modernize roads and develop housing to accommodate up to 60,000 new workers.
Yet, counties and cities aren't fighting over the spoils, at least for now, but rather are working together in an unusual fashion to ensure the region as a whole is prepared for the growth caused by the Base Realignment and Closure plan, known as BRAC.
Just as surprising, the state is abandoning the common practice of waiting for local jurisdictions to go to Annapolis to argue for their share of the pie. When a new BRAC sub-cabinet created by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) met for the second time, it convened earlier this month 60 miles from the capital, at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County. The next meeting will be in Frederick, with future stops likely in Montgomery, Howard and Harford counties.
"We want to talk to the different counties that are going to be impacted," said Asuntha Chiang-Smith, the BRAC sub-cabinet's executive director.
The Pentagon's realignment plan, announced two years ago, calls for military base closures in many states.
But Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County stands to gain about 5,700 jobs directly and thousands more through related businesses. More than 9,000 jobs will go directly to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, and additional workers will be assigned to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda and Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County. More than 28,000 new households are expected in the state.
BRAC plans are required by law to take effect Jan. 1, 2011, so the sub-cabinet will concentrate on creating a plan to address needs such as transportation, higher education and the availability of housing.
The sub-cabinet, which includes Cabinet members from transportation, planning and other areas, will also serve as a clearinghouse for requests from jurisdictions vying for more than $21 billion in BRAC-related transportation money.
Overseen by Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), the sub-cabinet will meet 10 times in the next six months in communities across the state and will present a recommendation to O'Malley for a strategic statewide plan by Dec. 1.
The meeting at Patuxent River Naval Air Station was designed to focus on the impact of previous BRAC expansion on St. Mary's County and the surrounding area.
"We wanted to really start out with lessons learned with BRAC because they were affected by prior rounds," Chiang-Smith said.
Meanwhile, counties and local jurisdictions are meeting to devise regional strategies to take to the sub-cabinet. The Fort Meade Growth Management Committee, which includes representatives from Baltimore, Laurel and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Prince George's counties, will meet for the first time Wednesday at Anne Arundel Community College.
"One of the biggest goals, of course, is to figure out how we can cooperate, complement each other," said Robert C. Leib, the Anne Arundel County executive's special assistant for BRAC/education. "To make sure we're always talking to each other, it seems like a simple thing, but it's a challenge."
The involvement of Baltimore and Prince George's represents an acknowledgment of the far-reaching effect of the expansion at Fort Meade.
"Certainly, given the proximity of Fort Meade to communities such as Laurel and Bowie in Prince George's County, there's considerable opportunity for both companies and employees to locate in nearby Prince George's County," said Kwasi Holman, president and chief executive of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp. "In addition, there will be considerable BRAC activity around Andrews Air Force Base."
The committee will be building upon the work done by local jurisdictions. Howard County, for example, has formed a task force to look at a half-dozen areas of concern, such as education, workforce development, transportation, infrastructure and workforce housing.
"It's now time to take those county-level actions to the regional levels," said Kent Menser, executive director of Howard's BRAC office.
The committee will then "work with the sub-cabinet in terms of coordinating regional and state priorities," Menser said. That means county representatives might ultimately give higher priority to a project in a neighboring jurisdiction because it is deemed better for the region.
Some prospective projects would include the expansion of routes 3 and 175 near Fort Meade and the proposed extension of Metro's Green Line north from Greenbelt to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
"I'm not surprised by the cooperation," Menser said. "People have come to the recognition that this is a regional action."
Brown has previously stressed that much of the BRAC-related planning is underway and that transportation projects designed to accommodate BRAC growth are included in the state's seven-year planning cycle. The sub-cabinet will determine whether the planning needs to be reevaluated.
The spirit of cooperation extends to members of Maryland's congressional delegation, who are working to bring what they say is badly needed federal funding to the table. More than $719 million for BRAC projects in Maryland was included in a spending bill that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 14, according to the office of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.).
Participants say the concerted effort by federal, state and local officials to prepare for BRAC can be explained by the knowledge that if Maryland is not up to the task, another state gladly will step forward.
"I think everybody realizes this is ours to gain or to lose," Chiang-Smith said.