The formal transfer of 8,100 acres of surplus land at Fort Meade to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has left two major issues unresolved: what to do with Tipton Army Airfield and whether Anne Arundel County will employ some of the acreage for recreational use. These raise the larger question of the county's role in one of the largest swath of open space in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
The future of Tipton is beset by uncertainty and opposition. The county isn't sure it wants to take on the financial responsibility of operating a private airport. Citizens in nearby communities aren't wild about living next to one. These concerns are well-placed, but they need to be viewed in light of what best serves the county's interests.
To its credit, Anne Arundel already is weighing the pros and cons of running an airport. A consultant is to assess whether what's being proposed -- a 3,000-foot runway capable of handling about 300 single and two-engine planes -- could be financially self-sustaining. But even the most optimistic estimates point to a wait of anywhere from 18 months to two years for the consultant's report.
Allowing this airport to sit idle for an extended period of time is unacceptable and unnecessary. Growth at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and attendant safety concerns have heightened the need for a facility to handle small plane traffic. As local pilots point out, converting Tipton would require no major overhaul. They're floating a proposal to have the State Aviation Administration, which already operates BWI and Martin State Airport, run Tipton until the county decides what it wants to do. This is a splendid idea.
The other big question concerns 470 acres immediately west of Tipton Airfield. The county wants to put the land to recreational use -- parks, bike paths and the like -- under a joint stewardship arrangement with the Fish and Wildlife Service. It has proposed taking responsibility for public works such as road maintenance.
This is a laudable plan that the county should energetically pursue. For four years, Maryland's congressional delegation, local officials and environmentalists have waged a battle to preserve this huge acreage of open space. Having prevailed over forces that would have seen much of this property developed, Anne Arundel officials must now determine how best to use this important natural resource.