Meeting to focus on BRAC


State, local and military officials will converge tomorrow for a town hall-style meeting to discuss issues related to the national base realignment that is expected to bring tens of thousands of new jobs and residents to the area.

The meeting, which is to start at 11 a.m. at the Higher Education and Applied Technology Center in Aberdeen, will be one of the first opportunities for residents to ask questions about a process - known as base realignment and closure, or BRAC - that will change the complexion of the county and Central Maryland. It is also the first of several meetings next week dealing with BRAC-related issues.

The BRAC process was feast or famine for area officials. With the military looking to save $7 billion by consolidating operations into specialized centers, the region faced losing thousands of jobs from its existing bases or gaining thousands from across the country.

Though Harford and Aberdeen Proving Ground fought off cuts and will become further entrenched as a hub of weapons testing and research, the victory also has left planners with the task of preparing for a major influx of workers.

In a slow-moving and ambiguous process in which numbers and projections are ever-changing, tomorrow's meeting could provide additional insight into how officials are embracing those challenges.

Among those making remarks at the town hall meeting will be Aris Melissaratos, the secretary of the state's Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED); County Executive David R. Craig; J. Michael Hayes, a retired Marine Corps general who heads the office of military and federal affairs with DBED; James C. Richardson, the county's economic development director; and J. Thomas Sadowski, vice president of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.

A spokeswoman for DBED said the speakers will answer questions for about 30 minutes.

The town hall meeting will lead up to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s scheduled Cabinet meeting at the LTC Milton A. Reckford Armory in Bel Air at 2 p.m., where the governor will announce project planning for a second wave of road improvements to Interstate 95.

The improvements, which will stretch from north of Route 43 in Baltimore County to north of Route 22 in Harford, were part of a $2 billion plan unveiled in 2003. Like many infrastructure projects, officials said BRAC has accelerated the need for such improvements.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, residents will be able to voice concerns about BRAC's impact on the environment when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosts meetings in Aberdeen and Edgewood. The Corps will consider the remarks as it forms an "environmental impact statement" for BRAC.

Comments from the public will help engineers determine which aspects of growth should be considered in BRAC planning, said spokesman Chris Augsburger.

"A lot of the public lives on base or near the base, and the concern with BRAC is, 'Am I going to lose water quality?' or 'Are my trees going to be knocked down?'" Augsburger said. "The EIS [environmental impact statement] is going to identify how a project will impact the environment."

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