By DAN LAMOTHE, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - The Senate Thursday passed a $109.2 billion military construction and affairs bill that sets aside $963 million for Maryland, including $698.6 million for projects related to the federal base realignment and closure process.
The bill, approved 92-1, funds numerous construction projects at military installations nationwide, including a dramatic expansion in Maryland that could eventually bring 45,000 new jobs statewide. A similar version of the bill passed 409-2 in the House in June.
Maryland's senators, Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both voted for the bill, which is expected to be reconciled with the House bill and sent to President Bush. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who opposed language in the bill that prevented the Department of Veterans of Affairs from selling the West Los Angeles Veterans Medical Center, cast the lone vote against it.
"I told Maryland's military leaders I would fight for this funding," Mikulski said in a prepared statement. "I will keep up my work to make sure Maryland communities have what they need in the federal checkbook to implement the BRAC recommendations."
The bill includes $445 million for Washington-area military facilities, $287.1 million for Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, $165 million for Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and $67.2 million for projects in southern Maryland.
All money set aside for Aberdeen Proving Ground is BRAC-related, with $245 million for the construction of a communications-electronics command center, $27 million for a medical research lab for biochemical defense and $2.9 million for an Army research lab.
Jim Richardson, Harford County economic development director, said it is also important to Aberdeen that Fort Lee in Virginia won $385 million in funding. That money will build the new Ordnance School and Center, which will be transferred from Aberdeen Proving Ground to Fort Lee to make room for the new communications facilities.
"With the money for Fort Lee, we can get the ball rolling for construction here," Richardson said.
Fort Meade's money will go toward: $152 million for a new Defense Information Services Agency building; $7.9 million for a new utilities building at the National Security Agency, and $4 million for an exterior stair tower at NSA needed to meet building safety codes. There is also $94,000 set aside for planning on a Clearance Adjudication Facility, which determines who receives certain levels of security clearance.
Bob Leib, a special assistant for the Anne Arundel County executive, said the bill's passage is a major step in the construction process at Fort Meade.
"They've been receiving incremental funding since 2006, but this is the first real plug of construction money they've received," he said.
Leib said the county is planning for BRAC with the understanding that Fort Meade will break ground on the Defense Information Services building next June or July.
In the Washington area, the largest chunk of money, $214.8 million, went to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda for construction of the Joint Medical Command Headquarters. It will consolidate the Navy hospital with Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, which made national headlines last year for its poor conditions.
Other funding in the Washington area will go toward the following:
-- $150 million for new laboratory construction at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases on Fort Detrick;
-- $52.1 million for the National Maritime Intelligence Center in Suitland;
-- $28 million for a new Air National Guard and Readiness Center headquarters at Andrews Air Force Base.
In southern Maryland, the following funding was set aside:
-- $28.8 million for an Explosives Development Facility at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Charles County;
-- $18 million for an Aircraft Prototype Facility at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County;
-- $13.7 million for the Advanced Hawkeye Research, Development Test and Evaluation Center at Patuxent River Naval Air Station;
-- $6.7 million for an addition to the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System building at Patuxent River NAS.
The bill also includes $87.5 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, $4 billion more than President Bush requested in his proposed budget. The Baltimore Veteran's Administration Medical Center will receive $300,000 to support the Advanced Low Vision Clinic, which helps rehabilitate soldiers with eyesight injuries.