Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Harford County officials say they have a BRAC action plan

We have a plan, say Harford County officials charged with preparing for an influx of thousands of new county residents expected to start moving here next year due to the military's Base Realignment and Closure Plan, in a story in today's Baltimore Sun. The plan was developed during the past year using a $1.7 million federal grant. The Sun story said the plan now goes to County Executive David R. Craig. The story says the plan will get a "public airing" three months from now at town hall meeting April 18. Until then, I guess we can be rest-assured that this plan addresses the scary scenarios detailed in the state planning department's cautionary report on BRAC revealed in a Sun story last Saturday which warned that our land, water, road and school resources would be strained by the sudden influx of new residents. The Sun story says the county's plan does not provide any cost estimates for the projects it recommends. It says county officials are expected to soon give the state a list of transportation project they'd like to get state and federal money for.

"The snowball's rolling downhill, and we're going to continue to keep pace," said J. Thomas Sadowski, chairman of the county's base realignment planning advisory commission.

I hope the county gives us a way to get a easier peek at the details of this plan before April. You know how folks around here generally react to a threat of snow. It's not exactly comforting.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Scary BRAC story in Saturday's Baltimore Sun

Strained water supplies, snarled traffic, housing sprawl and a plague of locusts -- this is what BRAC will bring according to a report released by state planners last week and detailed in a Baltimore Sun story Saturday. Ok. I'm kidding about the locusts. But it sounds a bit like Armageddon, nonetheless. And to think, we were so delighted not so long ago when the military announced our bases would be staying open and drawing thousands of new jobs to the area. Now, the trouble is, where are we going to put all these folks? According to a little chart that ran with the front page story, Harford County will be getting an additional 6,533 households as a result of BRAC -- more than any other Maryland county. According to the Sun story:

"The price tag to taxpayers is likely to run into billions of dollars."

But for Harford County, the story gets even more bleak:

"Families moving to Harford to take base-related jobs could buy up more than two-thirds of the high-quality housing expected to be built or for sale in the county's designated growth area, the plan cautions. But the county's plans to concentrate those new households could be foiled by lack of infrastructure, the report cautions.

"Harford and its municipalities face water-supply limits or shortages, the report says. Bel Air's water capacity is inadequate, planners say, and they warn that Aberdeen's plans to solve its looming supply crunch by desalinating Chesapeake Bay water might not get approved and completed before new workers and their families start arriving.

"The report says there is "an increased urgency for plans and actions now" to finance and build new water-supply and sewage treatment capacity, highway and transit improvements and classroom space."
The story says that Harford County Executive David R. Craig plans to unveil an "action plan" for coping with base-related growth Monday. I'll keep an eye out for that. But in the meantime, it has me thinking a plague of locusts would be the least of our problems.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What will BRAC bring? Traffic, for sure.

A story in today's Baltimore Sun indicates there is a lot of hand-wringing over BRAC even at the highest levels of state government. And yet, after reading the story it appears no one really has a good handle on what kinds of challenges it will bring or a concrete plan on how to get a handle on them. However, one thing seems perfectly clear. BRAC is going to bring a whole lot more traffic. And, the congestion will likely arrive before the solution.

From The Sun story:

"Among the broader initiatives being promoted by Maryland counties is a mechanism to allow the legislature to rush projects deemed crucial, such as roads.

'Getting approval for transportation projects can be a six-year process, so we need the option of fast-tracking to help those come on board as quickly as possible,' said Roxanne Lynch, Harford County's director of government and community relations."
And from later in the story:

"'The jury's still out on whether this is going to be a net gain for the state,' said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland. 'We can't take the 60,000 or so people and sprawl them all over the place. We don't have the roads, we don't have the schools, we don't have the water. We need to do it right so we don't have a nightmare.'

"Dan Pontious, regional policy director for the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, said local officials need the state's help in preparing for BRAC-related growth, especially in dealing with the increased traffic it will generate.

"'As our highways become more clogged, people are going to be looking for other ways to get to work,' Pontious said. The state must invest in enhancing MARC commuter rail lines, he said, which can transport more workers to Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade while serving the needs of other Maryland commuters."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Greater Baltimore Committee makes BRAC a priority

The Greater Baltimore Committee announced in a press release today that it is making BRAC issues a priority for 2007:

"Setting up streamlined budgeting and planning processes to address looming growth in central Maryland related to federal base realignment and closure (BRAC) are among the Greater Baltimore Committee's top priorities for the 2007 General Assembly session."

"To prepare for BRAC growth, the GBC is urging that the state budget include a line item for BRAC-related projects and that state agencies implement an expedited planning and approval process for such projects. The GBC also proposes updating and funding the state's Consolidated Transportation Plan to "fully integrate the road and transit projects that are needed for BRAC," according to a priorities list issued today by the GBC."

The Greater Baltimore Committee is a group of business and civic leaders who work to help shape policy in the region.

Anticipated BRAC traffic woes came up today as well in the local Aegis BRAC "report." The Aegis asked a collection of local folks whether they knew what BRAC was. County Executive David Craig had a good handle on it. Local residents, not so much. What was a bit enlightening was the across-the-board concern people are expressing about traffic issues. In just a few years, tens of thousands of workers are going to be hitting the highways on their way to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Meade and all the other contracting and other businesses that will support these bases. While we may not have hard numbers on which to base housing needs or school needs we can bet that we're all likely to be tied up in traffic.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Intriguing story on BRAC hires in today's Baltimore Sun

We've all heard that plenty of workers at the Fort Monmouth, N.J. military base don't want to come to Maryland when it's time to make the big BRAC move. But a story in today's Baltimore Sun reports those jobs won't go away. Instead, the Army is busy in Fort Monmouth hiring workers who will move to Aberdeen Proving Ground when the time comes. According to the story:

"A recent military survey estimating that only a small fraction of the workers at Fort Monmouth plan to follow their jobs to Aberdeen has sparked a hiring spree by the Army aimed at putting about 2,600 workers in place at the New Jersey base long before it moves to Maryland.

Those employees would 'backfill' projected losses, military officials said. The new hires - including many Marylanders - sign on with the understanding that they will start in New Jersey and move to Maryland with the base's operations.

'We are aggressively hiring from the Maryland area now,' said Sue Nappi, assistant deputy chief of staff for operations and plans at Fort Monmouth."

The story says that Aberdeen is expecting an increase of 8,200 workers at its base, with double that number to come in the form of contracting and other jobs that support the base. But they're still crunching the numbers:

"Harford is planning to award a contract for further study of the realignment's impact within the next few months and will incorporate the Army's survey into those statistics, said James C. Richardson, the county's economic development director."

BRAC cited as one reason to boost school district's public information staffing

BRAC wasn't a good enough reason for state officials to give Harford Public Schools all the money it wanted to build more schools for the expected onslaught of BRAC students. However, a story in Friday's Aegis indicates it was a decent reason for the Harford County Board of Education to create a new position: public information clerk for the Office of Information and Publications. The Aegis quoted school board president Mark Wolkow saying:

"There's not a good understanding of what goes on inside the school system."

The story stated that the Office of Information and Publications produces the Harford County Public Schools monthly newspaper and newsletters.

According to the story, Director of Public Information Don Morrison, answered a board member's question about whether the new position might be premature saying:

"It's just become really problematic that we maintain all the things we do, even in the present scope, without BRAC."

The district's $420 million 2008 budget request includes 245 new positions, according to the story.