The Howard County Council voted last night to join Anne Arundel County in leasing Tipton Airfield at Fort Meade from the Army and running it as a civilian facility beginning this fall.
The unanimous vote of the five-member council commits Howard to an interim agreement under which the two counties will operate the airfield until the Army cleans up the site -- a process expected to take at least two years. Both counties will assign workers to Tipton and, after the Army cleans up the site, Arundel and Howard will create a joint airport authority to run Tipton.
There are three landfills on the 366-acre airfield, and munitions from as far back as World War I are believed to buried there. Hand grenades, mortars and anti-tank rockets already have been removed and detonated.
Council members said at a work session last week that they were skittish about whether Howard would be liable for any damages or injuries that might occur as a result of hazardous or toxic wastes left undetected at Tipton once the Army relinquishes it.
The council wanted an opinion from the county attorney regarding the liability question before last night's vote. The attorney said liability for any hazardous materials that remain after the Army's cleanup will stay with the Army.
The opinion was precautionary, since the Army has pledged to clean up the site before yielding it to the counties and has agreed to allow an independent consultant to verify that the site is free of contaminants.
When Howard and Anne Arundel take possession of the site after the cleanup, the airfield will be run by an airport authority responsible to both counties. Once it becomes a civilian airfield, Tipton is expected to house 300 planes and generate $25 million annually in revenue.
Officials from Fort Meade, the Maryland and federal aviation administrations and Anne Arundel and Howard counties will hold a public briefing on plans for Tipton at 7 p.m. April 11 at Hammond High School.
In other action last night, the council appointed Savage resident and local builder Jerry L. Rushing to the County Board of Appeals.
Slow-growth advocate John W. Taylor of Highland had opposed the nomination of Mr. Rushing on principle, saying that by definition it is a conflict of interest for anyone who profits from the building industry to sit on a board or commission that decides land-use matters.
The council seemed persuaded instead by testimony at a March 21 hearing from various people who supported Mr. Rushing -- a neighbor; his tax accountant; the father of a child whom he had coached; a Republican activist; his pastor, and former Democratic state Sen. Thomas M. Yeager. They described the 39-year-old Mr. Rushing as an old-line county resident -- he was born in Howard -- and a man of integrity who is committed to his church, his family and his community. They said he has the expertise to do a good job on the Board of Appeals.
The only nonunanimous vote on last night's 22-item legislative agenda came on an employee pay bill. East Columbia Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a 2nd District Democrat, said a 2 1/2 percent so-called merit raise for most employees was too small.
Pay raises have slowed -- in some cases they were eliminated -- over the past four years because of the poor economy. One year, employees were furloughed and took a pay cut. Through it all, they continued to provide excellent service, Mr. Gray said, and should be rewarded.