Another BRAC in 2013? Where Harford stands

There's potential for more growth at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Harford County officials say. Whether that growth could come from another round of BRAC in 2013 or 2015 is still to be determined, however.

During Wednesday's Economic Development Advisory Board meeting in Aberdeen, Jill McClune, president of Harford Business Innovation Center, said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wants "to do another BRAC" – military base realignment and consolidation – and will put in a request to do so with Congress.

After a six-year process, the base closure and realignment transfer at Aberdeen Proving Ground was completed on Sept. 15, adding six organizations to the installation, 8,200 new, direct jobs and 2.8 million square feet of new and renovated building space, according to various sources that have worked with the local BRAC initiatives.

Those figures don't include thousands of additional jobs and tens of thousands of square feet of building attributed to defense contractors who have relocated to or expanded in Harford to accommodate the on-post growth from BRAC.

Military or civilian?

According to McClune, there are "two conversations going on," about a future BRAC: military and civilian.

"There's some momentum for a civilian BRAC," she said, adding: "Most people say it [a military BRAC] is going to happen, but when?"

Her comments were directed at a county government group whose ranks include representatives of local businesses — including the defense sector — educational institutions, the military and county and local municipal governments.

McClune said theU.S. Air Forceand Navy "very much want a BRAC," which will allow them to reorganize some of the bases and operations. Much of BRAC 2005 was focused on Army facilities.

This could be a foreign-only base closure, McClune went on to say, creating consolidation if there is another round of BRAC in 2013.

While she didn't want to name the possible bases that would close, McClune said it would only be two or three facilities.

"[Aberdeen Proving Ground] is in a unique position," McClune said, because it "has a lot of land still," unlike Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

Both Army posts were major beneficiaries of BRAC 2005, as APG transitioned into the Army's communications and electronic warfare center, and Fort Meade expanded its role as the military's electronic surveillance center.

More potential growth

Karen Holt, manager for the APG-Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor regional BRAC office, agrees with McClune that it's more likely a future round would focus on other parts of the armed services, such as the Air Force or Navy.

Holt's agency was created to work as liaison between local governments and the military and business communities and state government on BRAC issues related to APG and northeastern Maryland.

"The Army really accomplished a lot of activity in the BRAC 2005 round," Holt said Thursday. "That doesn't mean there isn't potential for growth at APG."

Growth and continued consolidation at APG can happen regardless of another BRAC, she added.

The BRAC office manager explained that while there has been no timeline disclosed for a future round, word is if anything were to happen it would be in 2013 or 2015, as rounds tend to happen in five or 10 year implementations.

Transportation issues linger

A big issue that could negatively affect Harford County's prospects to benefit from a future base realignment is transportation, McClune said. Traffic congestion resulting from inadequate highways in and around Aberdeen and a lack of mass transit alternatives have frequently been cited as problems as the greater Aberdeen area has grown as a job center.

If traffic issues are going to be as bad as it's being predicted, McClune said, "Nobody's going to move anything more here."

Harford County's BRAC coordinator, Steven Overbay, told the Harford County Council in November that the nine-minute trip between I-95 and Route 715, the main public access to APG, is projected to take 47.6 minutes during rush hour by 2015, making the route into APG a priority.

So far, the state of Maryland has committed to improving the intersection of Routes 40 and 715. The $43 million project got under way in late 2009 and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2013.

Beyond that, however, no additional Harford highway improvements have been funded past the conceptual stage, and the state has actually pushed back consideration of adding additional travel lanes on I-95 north of Route 24 in Abingdon. Harford County elected officials believe the interstate highway needs to be widened to a uniform width through the county, with a new interchange built at I-95 and Route 22, the latter being the main route into APG for people who work on post. Also long unresolved is the widening of Route 22 from Aberdeen to Route 543 east of Bel Air, the main route from the interior of the county to Aberdeen.

On the mass transit front, the state has promised MARC commuter train station improvements in Aberdeen and Edgewood, more train cars and more trains in both directions, as well as an equipment storage yard in Edgewood; however, none of the promised improvements and expansion have been delivered.

Despite the lack of funding and initiative from the state, Harford Economic Development Director Jim Richardson says his department and APG officials are working "hand in glove" to make sure the county is prepared for anything that may happen in future.

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