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"BRAC" is Coming to Bethesda

Lerch, Early & Brewer's Legal Update

Those who have followed the news recently no doubt are aware of the pending transfer of functions from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. to the National Naval Medical Center located in Bethesda. The move means significant job growth for Bethesda, but also presents a number of challenging issues that individuals, businesses and government officials in Bethesda and throughout Montgomery County will have to face. This article will take a look at those issues as well as their potential impact on several facets of life in Montgomery County.

By September 15, 2011, most of the functions of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center will be moved to the National Naval Medical Center. The remaining functions will be moved to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Upon completion of the Bethesda merger, the new enhanced medical center will be renamed the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Walter Reed will be closed as a medical facility after these moves are completed.

The closure of Walter Reed and its move to Navy Medical are the result of a decision by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (“BRAC”). The decision, which became law on November 8, 2005, streamlines the delivery of health services to our military personnel in the National Capital region. The BRAC decision was part of a comprehensive national review of military efficiencies. Maryland fared extremely well in the process and expects to obtain 45,000 to 60,000 new jobs in the next few years. The jobs will be dispersed among Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Navy Medical, Andrews Air Force Base and Fort Detrick.

BRAC Means More Jobs, Traffic Congestion for Navy Med Area

What does the BRAC decision mean for Navy Medical? It means between 1,400 to 2,500 additional staff will be assigned to the campus. Between 435,000 and 535,000 additional patients and visitors are projected to arrive on the campus each year. Navy Medical currently has a staff of 8,086 members with annual visits from 497,000 patients and visitors. The enhanced campus will require significant construction and renovation to accommodate the operation and staff growth. In addition, an already failing transportation system outside of the campus will be further congested. Bethesda will feel all these impacts within the next four years, as mandated by the BRAC deadline.

As part of the BRAC process, Navy Medical is required by the National Environmental Policy Act to perform a thorough analysis of BRAC’s potential effects, both inside and outside of the campus. This analysis, known as the Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”), details how the BRAC move will impact traffic, noise, cultural resources and environmental resources. It also proposes recommended solutions to identified impact problems. A Draft EIS is expected to be released imminently. Once it is released, the public will have 45 days to comment, after which a final EIS will be issued. This EIS will be followed by another 45-day comment period and then a Record of Decision. No construction can commence on the campus until the Record of Decision is issued. The entire process from Draft EIS to Record of Decision is expected to take eight months.

Montgomery County Competing for Federal and State Transportation Funding

For Bethesda, the impact of most concern is the traffic impact. Four of Montgomery County’s most crowded intersections are in the area surrounding Navy Medical. The BRAC move surely will worsen the traffic at these and other area intersections. The EIS will identify mitigation measures to address the traffic, but neither it nor the BRAC process will provide funding for the proposed mitigations. Mitigation funding will need to come from other federal, state and local sources, if at all. Because of Maryland’s BRAC successes, Montgomery County is left to compete with other counties for limited federal and state funding. If it is not successful in this endeavor, Montgomery County will be left to address the BRAC-related traffic on its own.

The next few months are critical for Montgomery County officials to comment on BRAC’s proposed traffic mitigations
and to locate funding to implement them. To follow this evolving issue, please go to the Montgomery County BRAC web page located at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/brctmpl.asp?url=/content/exec/brac/community.asp

Patrick L. O’Neil is an attorney in the firm’s Land Use and Zoning Group. He can be reached at 301-657-0738, or via e-mail at ploneil@lerchearly.com.

This content is for your information only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorney before acting on any information contained here.

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