Cleaning up Tipton Howard County: The noise at this airfield is still coming from under ground.

July 26, 1996

ONE OF THE consequences of this region's rapid urbanization is the disappearance of many community airstrips. In the past decade, Maryland has already lost five and it is projected that five more of the state's 29 small airports will close during the next decade. That's why Howard and Anne Arundel counties are so keen on getting their hands on Tipton, the Fort George G. Meade airport that is being converted to civilian use.

Tipton will one day be available to the 300 local pilots who are eagerly waiting to land and take off there.

When that day will come, though, is anyone's guess because Tipton is literally loaded with layers of unexploded ammunition that have to be cleaned up first.

Howard and Anne Arundel officials originally set last Oct. 1 as the opening day for civilian operations at Tipton.

That date, of course, is long past and few now dare to guess when the airport can be reopened. Meanwhile, the painstaking cleanup continues to uncover far more unexploded ammunition than officials originally expected.

This should not be any real surprise. The 365-acre Tipton, after all, has been in military use since 1917, when doughboys were being trained for World War I service in Europe. Unexploded shells continued to accumulate during World War II, when more than 3.5 million soldiers passed through Fort Meade. As a result, duds range from one-pound cannon projectiles to bazooka rockets and M-9 rifle grenades.

Forty-one technicians are currently combing the airfield area, inch by inch. Their hand-held detectors are constantly beeping, mostly pinpointing such unthreatening metal scrap as horseshoes and crab traps. Every 425 beeps or so, the technicians find an explosive. In most cases, those duds are left in place and destroyed through detonation.

Tipton is the last of Fort Meade's nearly 10,000 acres to be converted to civilian use under the 1988 federal Base Realignment and Closure Act. Unless more unexpected surprises turn up, Howard and Anne Arundel officials hope to commence civilian flight operations there next spring. Cleanup workers are not rushing, though. They know the grounds must be safe before civilians begin using the field and its environs.

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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