SINCE 1956, the Fort Meade Flying Activity, a flight club based at Tipton Airfield, has cost the Army virtually nothing. In fact, over the years the club -- which pays its own way -- has donated money to Fort Meade's day care, bowling alley and arts and crafts center. It has spent more than $100,000 on airfield upgrades. You would think the Army would have an interest in seeing to it that the club continues using Tipton after it transfers to county government control as part of the federal base closure program. Quite the contrary.
It seems Army officials have settled on an absurdly rigid interpretation of the closure law, which says government operations at the airfield must cease Sept. 30. Because the flying club is a military entity, it, too, must leave, the Army argues. The purpose of the closure law, the Army says, is to save taxpayers money by ceasing military activities ASAP. That's true. But forcing the flying club to another airfield doesn't save anybody anything. In fact, it costs the Army the club's contributions to less profitable unfunded activities at Fort Meade.
Refusing to let the club use Tipton isn't just inefficient. It's unnecessary. Yes, the club is a military organization. But if it doesn't cost the government anything to let it stay at Tipton, why should anyone care? The Fort Meade stables were allowed to stay put after the property they occupy was transferred to Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Why should the flying club be treated any differently?
Club members -- who come from all four military services -- want to stay at Tipton because storage and fuel costs are lower there than at other airfields and because they have an attachment to the base community. The Army says such activities had a limited time in which to file requests for an exception to the base closure law, but the club never did so.
Club members say they thought they went through the proper procedures when they told Army officials at Fort Meade they wanted to stay. Somehow, though, the paperwork was never filed.
What's to be gained by punishing the members for that mix-up and adhering to the hard line that the club is a military group and thus must go? The answer is: Nothing.