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Officials near to landing airport Army lease change, EPA approval needed for Tipton takeover


Anne Arundel County could get a delayed holiday gift next month if plans to expand a lease for Tipton Airport go through as scheduled.

Army officials are working on an addendum to the lease it signed with the county this year that would let the county start using most of the airfield, including the runway and taxiways.

Tipton Airport is an Army airfield that closed in September 1995 because of military budget cuts. The county wants to convert it into a general aviation airport and has spent $300,000 in the past three years on an airport manager, consultants and other costs to open it.

The county now has use of only a small parcel there that includes three hangars. Army officials say they expect to have the paperwork clearing the way for use of the larger parcel by the end of January.

"We have engineering consultants working on a plan to open the airfield [and do] any and all things that need to be done -- replace lights, striping," said Sam Minnitte, who is coordinating the project for the county. "When they complete that report, we'll be ready to begin work."

Minnitte said studies show that the airport will need maintenance and improvements such as lighting repairs and new striping that can be paid for with money already approved in this fiscal year's budget. Other improvements, such as more tie-downs and repairs on existing ones, are capital projects that need County Council approval. Tie-downs are the outdoor spaces where planes are parked and secured to the tarmac.

The airport is in pretty good condition, Minnitte said.

"There weren't as many things as we originally thought to simply get the airport operational," he said.

Because any plans for the airport have to go through another set of county approvals, Minnitte did not know when planes might use the facility.

"From our perspective, when they get that addendum to the lease, they've got what they need to operate it as an airfield," said Paul Robert, chief of the post's Environmental Management Office.

Environmental concerns, cleanup efforts and bureaucratic red tape have kept the airfield in Fort Meade's hands. The Army is leasing the land because it is the quickest way to reopen the airport.

EPA gets involved

When the post was designated an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site, indicating that it is one of the country's most contaminated sites, EPA officials made the Tipton transfer a top priority.

The post environmental office had removed ordnance and other sources of pollution from the airfield, officials said. Paperwork remains the only barrier to county ownership. But the Superfund designation means the EPA is involved in the transfer. It has to delete the parcel from the Superfund list before the county can get the airfield, and that could take months.

Army's tasks

Before the EPA can get the airport taken off the Superfund list, the Army has to:

Get EPA approval of documents that detail what has been done to remove contamination in the old helicopter hangar, fire training grounds and a landfill. Robert says the EPA is reviewing those documents and could approve them within days.

Complete a second report on a portion of the field that includes another landfill and get EPA approval. Robert said he expects the second set of documents to be complete in April.

Get final approval from the EPA that the land is suitable for transfer. That could push the transfer back to late summer.

Pub Date: 12/27/98

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