BPW to Close Out Year With Fireworks

The Board of Public Works. Left to right: State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. and state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot. BPW photo

The final Board of Public Works meeting of 2018 is Wednesday, and it won’t lack for drama.

The three-member panel, consisting of the governor, comptroller and treasurer, that awards large state procurement contracts, will address at least three items sure to attract more scrutiny than usual.

Environmentalists will be on hand in the Governor’s Reception Room when the board considers whether to grant an easement to install a natural gas transmission pipeline under the Potomac River near Hancock, in Washington County. The pipeline would carry natural gas from fracking operations in Pennsylvania to transmission lines in West Virginia.

A coalition of environmental organizations and concerned residents from Maryland and West Virginia have requested the BPW to not grant the Columbia Gas requested 50-foot easement along the Western MD Rail Trail as part of the pipeline. The environmentalists believe the pipeline threatens the region’s drinking water – and they point out that the state should not be enabling a fracking operation from another state when Maryland has already banned the practice.

“Communities who rely on the Potomac for their drinking water from Hancock to D.C. are calling on Governor [Lawrence J. ] Hogan to once again oppose the Potomac pipeline and keep our state frack-free,” said Brooke Harper, Maryland policy director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Highway plan

The board is also scheduled to discuss a proposed five-year, $90 million contract to plan for the expansion of Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway – a proposal that continues to generate controversy in Montgomery County.

Hogan announced an ambitious $9 billion public-private partnership for widening the Beltway, 270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in the fall of 2017, but with scant details. He suggested that the projects could be paid for by tolls collected by a private firm.

This spring, Hogan was forced to pull a $69 million proposed contract for the expansion plan after critics suggested there was a conflict of interest because it was being awarded to a consortium that included the firm where state Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn once worked.

The new contract proposal, to be awarded to a consortium known as Maryland Traffic Relief Partners, would be earmarked for engineering, planning, final design and construction of the highway expansion. But transit advocates who have already been skeptical of Hogan’s plan are circulating information that one of the companies involved with Maryland Traffic Relief Partners, Louis Berger International, is under scrutiny from federal officials after two executives pleaded guilty in a procurement fraud scandal after being accused of bribing foreign officials for construction contracts in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Kuwait.

Whether that’s enough to sway Hogan, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) or Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp to vote against the proposed contract is an open question.

The State still has not engaged local officials in meaningful collaboration” over the plan, said Gary V. Hodge, president of Regional Policy Advisors, a public policy consulting firm, who suggested that the proposed contract “should be given close and critical scrutiny.”

The Montgomery County legislative delegation is now considering a measure that would give the county government a say over whether toll roads can be built in the county – a bill that could take direct aim at Hogan’s proposal. Dozens of community and civic leaders testified in favor of the measure at a hearing Monday night.

Brad German, co-chairman of a group called Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, accused the Maryland Department of Transportation of conducting an “opaque, rushed process for advancing this plan.”

But Jennifer Russel, representing the Fix I-270 Coalition, testified against the local legislation – and in favor of the state’s proposed highway expansion.

“The widening of 270 is a must-do project, and tolls are the only way to pay for it,” she said.

Health care contract

There could also be fireworks today when the BPW considers a proposed $680 million, five-year contract for health care services at state correctional facilities. The state proposes to award the contract to Corizon Health, Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn., dislodging the current contractor, Wexford Health Sources, Inc., of Pittsburgh.

Of the three vendors seeking the contract, state officials rated the Corizon bid tops for price and technical ranking.

This procurement contract represents a clash between big-time Annapolis lobbying shops. Bruce C. Bereano, a close ally of Hogan, represents Wexford; Perry, White, Ross and Jacobson, LLC, represents Corizon.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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