Study to convert Tipton Army Airfield delayed

December 07, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County has delayed a study on turning Tipton Army Airfield into a general aviation airport because of encroachment and noise concerns raised by the nearby National Security Agency, officials said Friday.

County Executive Robert R. Neall, who in February announced receipt of a $175,000 federal grant for a feasibility study, now must wait until Jan. 15 for a decision by the Army on Tipton's

fate, his spokeswoman, Louise Hayman, said Friday.

The airfield's 400 acres at Fort Meade were included in the Army's base closure and realignment plan, an effort to streamline domestic Army operations that so far has resulted in nearly 9,000 acres at that base being declared surplus and turned over to to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

The Department of Defense must decide by 1995 what to do with Tipton. The Federal Aviation Administration has indicated it would like to see another general aviation airport to alleviate congestion at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The county, which has not decided whether it would support running an airport, was to use the federal grant to do a cost analysis. "The county is still interested in the concept," Ms. Hayman said.

But in October, Mr. Neall sent a letter to the FAA saying he doesn't want to spend the grant money until he is sure "that the federal government intends to divest itself of the Tipton Army Airfield."

Concerns were raised by the NSA at a Pentagon meeting on Thursday, in which Army officials listened to representatives of the top secret listening post headquartered at Fort Meade, about one mile from Tipton.

Gorham Black, who attended the meeting as the county's deputy chief administrative officer, said the NSA wants Tipton to remain a federal or military-operated airport because of concerns about encroachment and noise.

The NSA declared publicly three years ago that it was worried about developments being built close to its facility off Route 32 near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. In 1990, it bought the former Colony 7 motel as a buffer between its buildings and the highway.

Ms. Hayman said officials who attended the Pentagon meeting included Robert B. Mendez, manager of Washington Airports for the FAA; Robert Hardiman, a program manager with the office of the Secretary of the Army; Mr. Black; and others.

She said Mr. Hardiman "listened to the NSA representatives state their case as to why Tipton should not be sold for security reasons." Ms. Hayman said no decision was reached at the meeting.

Mr. Black said NSA officials were more concerned with noise than with security.

Officials from the NSA could not be reached for comment over the weekend. Mr. Mendez, from the FAA, also could not be reached.

Mr. Hardiman, reached Friday evening at his home in Arlington, Va., refused to comment. "It was not an open meeting," he said.

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