Monday, Nov. 19, 2007

BRAC draft report details state priorities for military expansion

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CROWNSVILLE — State officials on Monday unveiled a comprehensive plan to accommodate the rush of jobs, housing demands and transportation projects expected to slam Maryland in the coming years as a result of military base realignment.

‘‘Many challenges come from this greater responsibility and with these challenges also come more and exciting opportunities for our state,” said Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who has overseeen the state’s BRAC readiness efforts. ‘‘Our responsibility is enormous and Maryland is prepared for this responsibility.”

Maryland could gain up to 60,000 defense and contracting jobs, mostly at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort George G. Meade in Anne Arundel County. It is billed as the single largest job growth in the state since World War II.

New jobs also will come to Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George’s County, Fort Detrick in Frederick County and the National Naval Medical Center in Montgomery County. Most jobs will come from Fort Monmouth in New Jersey and the Defense Information Systems Agency in Virginia.

The draft report outlines almost $800 million in new or upgraded infrastructure that needs to be funded next year alone. The long-term cost is expected to be far higher.

That includes more than $275 million each for public schools and transportation, and about $115 million each for water and sewer projects and higher education.

Brown said such investments are possible because the General Assembly has approved an amended version of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plan to close the state’s projected $1.5 billion structural deficit.

‘‘During the past three weeks ... we achieved more than any thought possible and more than many governments achieve in four years,” he said.

He noted that the final product means an additional $400 million for transportation, $50 million for Chesapeake Bay cleanup, health care access for 100,000 Marylanders, and a continued commitment to higher education and public schools.

The draft report, compiled by a subcabinet that includes 11 state agencies, also calls for new legislation that would establish a special fund for BRAC-related higher education initiatives. Separate proposals would facilitate development near the affected bases in a way that doesn’t exacerbate sprawl and would ensure private developers who build on military property pay their fair share of taxes to state and local governments.

Maryland was a big winner in the base realignment approved by Congress in 2005. The expansion at Aberdeen and Meade could reap hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue for the state, but the short-term challenges are great.

Officials project the expansion will produce 28,000 new households, prompting the state housing agency to implement programs and incentives that aim to provide more workforce housing opportunities.

Other steps include a major expansion of MARC commuter rail service; an assessment of the state’s groundwater supply; the creation of so-called ‘‘BRAC zones” that will steer development to specific areas; the establishment of economic development and career transition centers at Aberdeen and Meade to facilitate small-business growth; and the development of engineering-based educational programs to foster interest in industries that support base activities and more.

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