Ecker decries lease deal for airfield Liability an issue in Tipton proposal

December 06, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker may back out of the tentative deal to take over Tipton Army Airfield at Fort Meade unless the Army agrees to take legal responsibility for any environmental problems left on the 310-acre site.

Since November 1995, the Army has been clearing the site of shells, grenades and other remnants of its military past so Howard and Anne Arundel counties can turn Tipton into a civilian airport.

But in the middle of negotiations to ratify that deal, Ecker is complaining that the Army's proposed lease agreement would burden the counties with legal liability if more environmental problems turn up at the airfield.

"Certainly what is there now, they should have the liability to clean it up," Ecker said.

He said that "I'm optimistic" that the deal will go forward, but at this time the odds of completing it are "50-50." Months more of negotiations are likely, he said.

If the deal is approved, Howard and Anne Arundel counties would jointly lease the airport at no cost and operate it. After the Army completes a full environmental cleanup of the area, it plans to deed the land to the counties.

Local aviators are clamoring for more airports, but they are difficult and expensive to build. A Philadelphia consultant concluded that converting Tipton to civilian use could accommodate 300 aircraft and 188,000 flights a year. But removing the unexploded ordnance at Tipton has taken longer than Army officials had expected. By early September, the company doing the job had found and detonated 985 pieces of live ammunition. The new deadline to finish is February.

Anne Arundel County officials are analyzing the lease proposed by the Army, said Sam Minnitte, chief of staff for Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary.

"At this point, we don't share Dr. Ecker's concern, but that's only because we haven't finished our evaluation," Minnitte said.

Pub Date: 12/06/96

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