Letter presses to open BRAC

The Baltimore Sun

Three Republican state senators are demanding that any decisions about the impact of the impending expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground on the county be made in a public forum.

The senators representing Harford County wrote to Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is leading the administration's base-realignment planning effort, complaining of closed-door meetings, including the most recent one July 13 in Aberdeen.

Republican Sens. Nancy Jacobs, J. Robert Hooper and Andrew P. Harris called the sessions "troubling and undemocratic" in a letter to Brown dated Thursday.

"Legislators were disappointed that we were not only denied an opportunity to attend the subcabinet's deliberations that were held behind closed doors, but also that we were not afforded ample time to address our concerns," the senators wrote.

They said they had not received a reply as of late Friday.

"The more sunlight you shine into any government deliberation, the better," Harris said Friday. "I hope this subcommittee has nothing to hide. When Harford County is being considered, the subcommittee should bring in the expertise of local officials."

The nearly 73,000-acre Army base is part of the nationwide base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC. Within the next four years, APG, already one of Harford's major employers, will expand by about 8,000 jobs on the base and add thousands more contract positions off site.

BRAC is expected to bring more than 60,000 newcomers to Maryland, a good percentage of whom are expected to settle in Harford County.

"We have been asking for some time to be involved in the process," said Jacobs. "It is upsetting that it is our area affected and we don't have anyone in those closed-door sessions. They are making decisions for Harford County without our input."

In a phone call last week, Brown assured Del. B. Daniel Riley, a Democrat who represents southern Harford, that local leaders will be included in the decision-making, Riley said.

Riley said he is primarily concerned about the impact the base expansion will have on communities around APG. While Aberdeen has a municipal government, Edgewood and Joppa are unincorporated areas whose residents must rely on the county to advocate on their behalf.

"I am all for the regional advantages of BRAC, but let's take care of the areas most impacted," he said. "Aberdeen and Edgewood are going to get the traffic and the added stress on schools and infrastructure, and they have been totally shut out of the talks."

The BRAC subcabinet is committed to an "open and transparent process," reviewing what is needed to get Maryland ready for BRAC, said Samantha Kappalman, Brown's spokeswoman. Its members have met throughout the state to hear from local officials about their needs, she said.

The first 90 minutes of every subcabinet meeting is open to discussion. Local officials and the public will also have a chance to comment on the subcabinet's recommendations before they are submitted to the governor in December, she added.

She said that legislators "certainly have the ear of the lieutenant governor. He's happy to talk with any member of the delegation about what their priorities are."

Harford County Councilman Dion F. Guthrie voiced his complaints during the open phase of the July 13 meeting at the HEAT Center in Aberdeen before the session was closed. Guthrie said he believes that Brown relayed those concerns to the governor.

"The governor is calling Harford County ground zero for BRAC, and I agree," Guthrie said. "The biggest portion of the jobs are coming here. There should be another subcommittee of county and state officials who represent the Route 40 corridor so we can stay on top of BRAC."

But rather than more meetings, Guthrie said, he wants to see "shovels in the ground" and money on the table.

"That's when you know you got something happening," Guthrie said. "We need to get moving and stop talking."

County Executive David R. Craig will not weigh in on the issue, said Robert B. Thomas, a county spokesman.

"We do not comment on how the state handles its meetings," Thomas said.


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