The future of Tipton Airfield remains foggy

November 23, 1993|By Peter Hermann and John Rivera | Peter Hermann and John Rivera,Staff Writers

Although Gov. William Donald Schaefer broached the idea last week of moving the state's prison boot camp to Tipton Army Airfield near Fort Meade, very little has been done to seriously pursue the possibility.

Army officials in charge of disposing of the airfield, part of a 9,000-acre surplus parcel, by September 1995 say they have not been officially contacted by state officials.

They have been contacted by county officials interested in turning the facility into a privately run airport.

Questions remain about the 470-acre airport, including the extent of contamination by hazardous waste and buried, unexploded ordnance. Tipton Airfield was built on top of a capped landfill in 1962.

Placing a boot camp facility there, with extensive construction for barracks and dining facilities, could boost the cost of cleanup. "The degree of cleanup would depend on the use," said Dick Howell, the base closure and realignment officer for Fort Meade.

The state proposed moving the boot camp to Fort Meade last year, to expand its capacity from 265 inmates to 500 and to make room for female prisoners at its crowded complex in Jessup.

After an uproar from local residents, U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, 5th District Democrat, tacked an amendment onto a military construction bill forbidding use of any federal money to relocate the camp to the military post. That effectively killed the proposed move.

State public safety officials admitted yesterday that they have not thoroughly evaluated the Tipton site and possible problems that might arise by building living facilities there. "We are in the very early stages of taking a look at Tipton Airfield," said Leonard Sipes, a spokesman for the state division of Public Safety and Correctional

Services. "We quite frankly must take a longer and harder look."

Mr. Sipes said three factors weighed heavily in the state's consideration of Tipton: it is not immediately adjacent to a residential area, it is centrally located to the job sites inmates go to each day and it is surplus land the state can get cheap.

An unexploded ordnance survey is under way at the 9,000-acre surplus tract, south of Route 32, that should be completed shortly, said officials from the U.S. Army Toxic and Hazardous Materials Agency.

Numerous pieces of ordnance -- many buried under less than six inches of soil, but some located more than 20 inches below ground -- have already been located by metal detectors and removed or

detonated. The ordnance includes anti-tank rockets, rifle grenades, hand grenades and mortars.

About 8,000 acres of that land has already been given to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

Army officials will also have to clean up some hazardous waste contamination before turning the land over to either the county or the state.

According to an Environmental Protection Agency report issued in April, the landfill was used from the 1940s to 1950s and much of the landfill material was excavated and removed during airport construction. Electromagnetic tests indicate the areas between runways were not excavated.

According to the study, high levels were detected in ground water

of lead, chromium and arsenic, and high levels of aluminum and copper were found in surface water. Solvents toluene and xylene were found in ground water samples taken from wells south of the disposal area, and low levels of pesticides were also detected. The study's conclusions are preliminary and EPA officials recommend further testing of ground water.

County officials have said that the question of possible contamination will weigh heavily in its decision whether or not to pursue acquiring Tipton.

Ultimately, the secretary of the Army will decide what agency will receive the property, although Army officials said they would hope the county and the state could work out a compromise.

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