An array of county, state and military officials praised Harford County and held it as a role model for if planning for and implementing the base realignment at Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is scheduled to be completed in six days.
About 60 people attended the county's final BRAC town hall forum Aberdeen High School Wednesday evening to review APG's transformation from a $3.5 billion to a $20 billion installation. Many of those in the audience were connected with the government and various interest groups involved with the BRAC process.
The event featured five speakers: Harford County Executive David Craig, BRAC Advisory Commission chairman Tom Sadowski, Gen. Nick Justice of APG, Justin Hayes representing U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski and retired general Mike Hayes representing the state government.
Those in the audience included Harford County Council President Billy Boniface and Councilmen Dick Slutzky and Dion Guthrie; the heads of at least five county departments; representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, Rep. Andy Harris and Sen. Ben Cardin; Aberdeen and Havre de Grace Mayors Mike Bennett and Wayne Dougherty; Aberdeen Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young; Harford Community College President Dennis Golladay; Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor Director Karen Holt; Sheriff Jesse Bane; APG Garrison Commander Col. Orlando Ortiz; and Cecil College President Stephen Pannill.
Craig said the federal government's official final day of base realignment affecting Aberdeen Proving Ground is really just the beginning.
"It's like a wedding day, and Sept. 15 is when we walk down the aisle," he said, explaining everything that comes after is what will keep BRAC working.
Traffic congestion in around APG will continue to get worse, he acknowledged, although it means more people have jobs, he said.
"We have to continue to work on that," Craig said of the traffic situation.
He said the county has invested more than $300 million in capital projects since he first learned about BRAC, just after being inaugurated in 2005.
That includes four new schools, including the "phenomenal" Red Pump Elementary School which opened for the first time last week, he said, and the expansion of the Abingdon water plant.
BRAC preparations have also included $57 million in highway and transit projects, a banking commission, a finance commission to study tax increment financing and things like hospitality videos, which Craig joked were needed to teach people from New Jersey how to pump gas and pick crabs.
Many of those being relocated to Harford County and APG are coming from Fort Monmouth in northern New Jersey.
Craig also said Harford County paved the way with its plan for how to respond to BRAC.
"I've always been proud that the state of Maryland took our report and sort of whited out [substituted] Harford County, and many other counties did that," he said.
Recalling the zero percent nationwide job growth announced for August, Craig also joked that Harford County is doing considerably better.
"We actually created more jobs here than the whole nation did," he said.
APG also got $1.3 billion in federal funds for new construction and relocated 76 defense contractors to the county. Meanwhile, 61 percent of residents who relocated moved to Harford County, according to a fact sheet distributed at the meeting.
Private sector efforts
Sadowski, a former economic development director for Harford County government, agreed with the favorable results from Harford's BRAC plan, adding, "communities throughout the country took this model, took this plan and used it as a template."
He said his group has done many creative things, such as the enhanced-use lease option on The GATE office park at APG, explaining it is important to maintain partnerships and keep pushing governments higher up.