NSA objections to divesting Tipton Airfield overruled Pilots group stakes claim on airport

June 17, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

The Department of Defense has rejected claims by the National Security Agency that converting Tipton Army Airfield into a civilian airport would endanger the NSA's top-secret mission.

The NSA, an international listening post at Fort Meade, objected in October to plans by the Army to divest the 440 acres that make up the airfield as part of base closure and realignment plans.

Anne Arundel County, state and federal officials said yesterday they were still waiting for a decision from the Pentagon on the fate of Tipton. A spokeswoman for the NSA said she knew nothing.

But in a memorandum sent to the NSA June 4, William J. Perry, deputy secretary of defense, said it would be "inappropriate" to take back property on the disposal list. A copy of the memo was obtained by The Sun.

"Future closures may be even more dramatic than the recent past," Mr. Perry stated, "and it would be inappropriate to retain or add-back properties or portions of properties that the Department and Congress have agreed to close."

The memo also turned aside security objections lodged by officials at the massive NSA complex near Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

"I appreciate arguments for operational security, but it seems futile to continue to incrementally expand the envelope of security within the existing threat possibilities already surrounding NSA," Mr. Perry said.

Last night, a pilots' group called the Save Tipton Coalition held a public meeting to lobby county officials for a second airport in addition to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

George Oaks, chairman of the 250-member group, said an airfield at Tipton would serve only small propeller-driven planes, generate $5.5 million in revenue for the county and create 84 new jobs.

Abut 100 people attended the meeting at Meade High School.

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking at a civilian airport at Tipton to reduce the number of privately owned planes flying out of BWI.

But the NSA's apparent loss does not guarantee the Save Tipton Coalition an airport.

The Army still has the final say on how the land is divested.

The Army must decide how to dispose of Tipton by September 1995. Officials at last night's meeting said Army brass have completed the second step in that process by offering the land to other federal agencies.

In the next phase, the Army must offer the property to the homeless. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has 60 days to evaluate the land.

If HUD determines the airfield to be unsuitable for its purposes -- and most local officials are confident it will -- local and state governments get their shots.

And if they fail, the property is put up for sale to the general public.

Gorham Black, an assistant to County Executive Robert R. Neall, said Arundel will not spend the $175,000 required for a feasibility study on operating its own airport until a final decision by the Army is made.

"Once that happens, we will open up the box and start the study," said Mr. Black, who was the garrison commander at Fort Meade in 1987 when the base closure and realignment plan called for the installation to get rid of 9,000 acres. Thus far, 8,100 acres have been preserved as part of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

But Mr. Black cautioned that there could be other competing interests for the land and called the Defense Department's rejection of NSA's request a "peripheral issue."

Some who spoke at the meeting pressed state officials to consider taking over Tipton for general aviation use if the county decides not to go forward with plans for a county-run airport.

But Bruce F. Mundie, director of the office of regional aviation assistance for the Maryland Aviation Administration, said it is the state's position that Tipton should be controlled by a local government.

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