The Army has won approval for its comprehensive environmental study, a project it had to complete before demolition and construction could proceed at Aberdeen Proving Ground as it prepares for significant expansion.
Researchers, planners and engineers reviewed the impact of large-scale development on the base, one of several military facilities slated for expansion as a result of the nationwide base realignment known as BRAC.
"All environmental criteria have been met," said Naren Desai, an APG environmental engineer who worked on the project. "We have chosen sites for construction where there will be the least environmental damage."
The Record of Decision, a nearly 400-page document that took 18 months to prepare, shows how the Army has met or will meet all guidelines and how the base will protect the environment as it grows. Work began on the study soon after BRAC was announced in 2005.
"This is the first step in the development process, and it assures regulators that everyone looked at environmental impacts and is aware of mitigation activities," said George Mercer, spokesman for APG. "We had to review, cradle to grave, how construction and demolition will affect the environment today, tomorrow and well into the future."
With the requisite federal and state approval of the study in hand, the Army can put out to bid the first projects in what is expected to be nearly $800 million in new construction, with building starting late next year, Desai said.
"We will evaluate contractor proposals along with the Army Corps of Engineers," he said.
The first phase of construction will include upgrades to infrastructure and the razing of several aging buildings, many of them former barracks converted into offices.
"Obviously, 2007 technology will not be adequate in 2012, so we are trying to work in advance on information technology," Mercer said. "Soon there will also be work on highways and entry gates."
The first new tenants will arrive in about two years from the Army's communication command in Fort Monmouth, N.J.
During the next four years, the APG will add as many as 8,000 jobs on base and thousands more military, civilian and contractor positions on its periphery. The expansion could bring more than 30,000 people to Harford County, officials said.
The document includes studies of noise pollution, air and water quality, plant and animal life and cultural resources - all reviewed by officials at the Maryland Department of the Environment and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Mercer said.
"This basically is a record of decisions between regulators and APG that says what the base will do to protect the environment," Mercer said. "If we don't do it, we will have to explain why, make changes and possibly pay a penalty."
The base, already Harford County's largest employer, sits on nearly 73,000 acres, 33,500 of which are waterways. It is home to a flourishing bald eagle population and many acres of wetlands.
"There will be no impact on eagles or their nesting areas, which are all outside the boundaries of construction," Desai said.
The proving ground, which dates to World War I, also houses nine major Army commands and supports 66 tenants.
The report also considers the expansion's effect on cultural resources and traffic. The Army will take "all practical means to avoid or minimize environmental harm," and follow best land management practices, the report says.
"All this had to be looked at, before we could begin working on BRAC," Mercer said. "We could not stick a shovel in the ground until it was done. Now we can, and we can tear down some buildings as well."