Cleanup of airfield is behind schedule Slow pace at Tipton blamed on weather, amount of explosives

September 13, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Workers scouring the 310 acres of Tipton Army Airfield for unexploded military ordnance are finding more small rockets, grenades, fuses and scrap metal than they expected, pushing back the completion date of the cleanup to as late as February.

A severe winter and unusually heavy rain also have slowed work on the cleanup that began in November 1995, said Ted Hartman, coordinator of base realignment and closure at Fort Meade. Then, officials predicted that the cleanup by Human Factors Applications Inc. (HFA) of Waldorf would be completed this summer.

"We've had a lot of factors that have impacted on it," Hartman said. The soonest it will be finished is December, he said.

As of Sept. 6, the crews had found and detonated 985 pieces of live ammunition, said Sara Gracey, an environmental coordinator at Fort Meade.

Ammunition buried at the airfield could date to World War I. The airfield is the last Fort Meade land to be turned over for civilian use under the 1988 Base Closure and Realignment Act.

Work has been particularly slow in a former aircraft parking area, where HFA officials expected to find a small amount of ammunition, but are turning up a large number of bazooka rockets, Hartman said.

Once the ammunition is removed, Anne Arundel and Howard counties will jointly lease, at no cost, and operate the airport. After the Army completes a full environmental cleanup of the area, it will deed the land to the counties.

Until there is a lease, civilian airport officials are not eligible for Federal Aviation Administration funding for capital improvements.

"That's why we're kind of upset that the Army keeps moving the date," said John Lucas, airport manager.

He said he has until February to request $5.4 million from the FAA to build an airport terminal, to have the airport connected to public and private utilities instead of to utilities at Fort Meade, and for other improvements.

The ammunition removal could become even more complicated with the cleanup of a section of the Little Patuxent River that borders the airport property. Pieces of ordnance on the bottom of the river are visible to people who use the area for canoeing and fishing.

If HFA is assigned to the river cleanup, its crews will detonate any ammunition they find in the river, Gracey said. If a Fort Meade environmental crew is assigned, it could simply remove the items from the river, she said.

Base environmental officials have not decided how the ammunition will be removed, Gracey said.

But doing nothing is "absolutely not acceptable," said Zoe B. Draughon, co-chairwoman of a citizens advisory board that is advising the Army on the cleanup of the more than 8,000 acres of the base that have been turned over for civilian use.

"In this particular part, you are way too close to personal usage," she said. "Safety has to be an even greater factor."

Pub Date: 9/13/96

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