Leonardtown, MD — The Commissioners of St. Mary’s County have agreed to ante up $1 million to make sure that the third building at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center stays on track. Gov. Larry Hogan pulled from his budget the $3.8 million earmarked in the next fiscal year in the University of Maryland budget for design and engineering for the building to be used for unmanned systems education and research. Hogan’s proposal delayed the funding for two years. There has been a strong local push to get the monies restored.

The $1 million would come from a $7.5 million reserve that has been sitting unused in the county’s capital budget for several years. The fund is called a BRAC Reserve and intended to assist the county in overcoming any issues relating to another round of Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) activities by the Pentagon.

Commissioner Todd Morgan [R – 4th District] was the motivator behind the establishment of the BRAC Reserve and he was the one who suggested using part of it to help make the University of Maryland building a reality sooner rather than later. “I believe the third building is critical to the future of the county,” Morgan (picture shown above) said.

Morgan said the third building, along with solving the Great Mills intersection bottleneck, were two crucial issues for the future of the area’s defense-dependent economy. Morgan also suggested that $2.5 million be set aside from the BRAC Reserve for the Great Mills intersection fix. The monies would be given to State Highway Administration to “kick start” that project.

While the idea of using the $1 million for the University of Maryland facility was unanimously accepted by the rest of the commissioners, the Great Mills intersection idea turned out to be somewhat controversial. Commissioner Mike Hewitt [R-2nd District] suggested the monies be spent to accelerate the dormant extension of Pegg Road from Chancellor’s Run Road to near the Route 5/249 intersection in Callaway.

Hewitt argued that any fix at the Great Mills intersection would require construction that would exacerbate an already bad situation for a number of years. Instead, he said that intersection could remain as is while the Pegg Road extension was constructed.

Hewitt said the obstacle presented for the Pegg Road extension in the past was the need to disturb wetlands. But he said the sum total of disturbed area would only be 500 square feet.

Hewitt also said the idea of adding an extra lane to the St. Mary’s River Bridge was discounted in a meeting that Hewitt and Commissioner President Randy Guy [R] recently had with State Highway District Engineer Lee Starkloff. Hewitt said Starkloff pointed out that the bridge wouldn’t support another lane.

Morgan said building the Pegg Road extension from Route 5 to the base Gate 1 would destroy Great Mills Road businesses. But Hewitt countered it would be like the Leonardtown bypass and its effect on the town’s downtown. It recovered by making the downtown a destination. “We need to rethink Lexington Park like Leonardtown, making it a destination,” he said.

The commissioners bypassed any decision on the dispute between Hewitt and Morgan. But they did agree during a budget work session Monday, Feb. 23 to have County Administrator Dr. Rebecca Bridgett draft a consent letter for them to sign and forward to the county’s legislators in hopes that will be a bargaining chip to get the monies restored for the University of Maryland facility at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center.

Contact Dick Myers at news@thebaynet.com