Pilot group to discuss future of Tipton Airfield WEST COUNTY -- Crofton * Odenton * Fort Meade * Gambrills

June 16, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

In December, National Security Agency officials told top Pentagon officers they feared that turning Tipton Army Airfield at Fort Meade into a civilian-run facility would pose a security risk to the super-secret listening post.

Six months later, no official word has come back from the Pentagon, but a group of private pilots thinks it knows the answer and plans to discuss the issue tonight at a 7 o'clock meeting at Meade High School.

George Oaks, chairman of the Save Tipton Coalition, a group of 250 pilots, community and business leaders, sent out a press release saying that NSA's security objections "have been reviewed and rejected by the Department of Defense."

Mr. Oaks, who lives in Crofton, points to a May 10 letter he received from Gary B. Paterson, chief of the Army's Base Realignment and Closure Office, which outlines a four-step procedure for the Army to divest itself of Tipton.

The letter does not address the NSA issue, and Army officials familiar with it could not be reached yesterday.

The airfield's 400 acres at Fort Meade were included several years ago in the base closure and realignment plan that mandated the Army divest itself of Tipton by 1995.

But NSA, located about a mile from the airport, has raised concerns about civilian encroachment and noise at the top-secret listening post that employs thousands.

The Pentagon's delay has stalled decisions by the Federal Aviation Administration, which wants to alleviate crowding at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and Anne Arundel County officials, who have a $175,000 federal grant to study taking over the airport.

"Everybody is in kind of limbo," complained Robert Mendez, the manager for the FAA's Washington district office.

"We are still waiting for an official response from the Department of Defense," Mr. Mendez said.

Mr. Mendez said he also has received letters similar to the one that pilots received, but considers the NSA problem open until he receives a message from the Pentagon that directly address the issue. An NSA spokeswoman said yesterday the agency is still waiting for a response from the Pentagon.

In an interview several months ago, Jerry Volker, then the NSA spokesman, said the agency wants Tipton to remain in federal hands because "increased flight activity would impair or impact on the physical or technical infrastructure of critical communication facilities."

He said one flight path is directly over a processing lab used to manufacture microchips.

But Mr. Oaks' group says the airport, which would serve only small, propeller-driven planes, would be a viable resource to the county, generating $5.5 million and creating 85 jobs.

"To the Save Tipton Coalition, it is crucial that this valuable public asset not be lost due to government inaction," he said.

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