NSA lifts veil on Ft. Meade Expansion
Up to $5.23 Billion could be spent on spy agency growth
Elizabeth Hulette, The Annapolis Capital
The National Security Agency's planned expansion in west county will cost billions of dollars and bring thousands of people to the area, according to a recently released draft environmental impact statement.
At minimum, the project will cost $2.07 billion and bring in 6,500 workers to a 1.8 million-square-foot building. At most, it could cost $5.23 billion and use 11,000 people in a 5.8 million-square-foot building.
According to the NSA's statement, the area proposed for the project - called "Site M" - sits on 227 acres near Rockenbach Road and Cooper Avenue at Fort George G. Meade. Currently the Applewood and Park golf courses use that land.
"Aren't we lucky to have such a great job climate in west county?" said Claire Louder, executive director of the West
Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. "There are people across the country who would give their right arm to have the kind of job growth we have in this area."
But while the project will pour in people and spur the local economy, officials said they remain concerned about whether the county is prepared to accommodate this kind of growth. Roads, schools and other infrastructure could become congested at a time when the county has few funds available for major projects.
"It's going to be difficult to fund some of the improvements that are needed," said County Councilman Jamie Benoit, D-Crownsville. "Everyone's going to have to understand that the fiscal crisis in the entire country is causing a lot of problems."
A spokeswoman for the NSA public affairs office said the agency could not answer questions on short notice.
The agency is one of several expanding its presence at Fort Meade at the same time other parts of the military are moving here as part of the federal Base Realignment and Closure process, called BRAC.
The NSA currently occupies about 630 acres at Fort Meade. The 227-acre expansion would begin with 1.8 million square feet of office space, with 6,500 workers and at a cost of $2.1 billion. It would be occupied by 2014.
If the second and third phases are implemented, that footprint would grow to 5.8 million square feet with 11,000 personnel and at a cost of $5.2 billion.
That final phase isn't expected to be completed until 2029.
Phase I also calls for the construction of infrastructure to support the massive complex, including a steam and chilled water plant, water storage tower, and electrical substations and generator facilities.
About one-third of the workers expected to arrive in the first phase already work in the region, meaning they likely would commute to their new jobs. The impact of those commuters on local roads, such as Route 175, is the biggest concern in west county at the moment, Louder said.
But the NSA has been working with the community to address the traffic problem, she said. The agency plans to encourage carpooling and likely will set up secure commuter buses in areas where lots of workers live.
"NSA has been really terrific about working with their people," she said. "It's not one person, one car."
Benoit added that the county is trying to find creative ways to fund improvements to roads and other infrastructure. A recent example is Town Center Boulevard at the planned Odenton Town Center. Halle Cos. will construct the thoroughfare in exchange for $6 million in credits toward impact fees developers normally pay to build new projects.
That kind of public-private partnership may be the way through the fiscal obstacles as the NSA expands, Benoit said.
"Getting a developer to fund a road, that's how we need to get things done," he said.
Bob Leib, the county executive's special assistant for BRAC, said the county also has concerns about the impact on wastewater output in west county. In their response to the NSA's impact statement, county officials will question the water situation and ask for federal aid for building roadways.
Despite those concerns, Leib said, the expansion - and the jobs that come with it - will be good for the county's social and economic fabric.
"Fort Meade is fast becoming the Silicon Valley for cybersecurity," he said. "It's going to be that big a deal."