Ecker would back optional inclusion in Tipton bill Executive seeks resolution of some liability concerns

February 27, 1997|By CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

Howard County's on-again, off-again relationship with Tipton Airport is on again -- sort of.

On Tuesday, County Executive Charles I. Ecker told Howard's Annapolis legislative delegation that he would support Howard's inclusion in Anne Arundel County legislation setting up an authority to manage the Fort Meade property as a civilian airfield -- if his concerns about liability are resolved.

Howard's state lawmakers will draft an amendment to the Anne Arundel bill, giving the county the option to be included if the Howard County Council and county executive agree.

"I don't want to be mandated to join," Ecker said. "It would be fine with me if they amend the bill with the option to join."

Since December, Ecker has joined and then backed away from the legislation.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat, vowed to address the subject during a recent public hearing where residents pressed for support of the bill, saying the airport would be a strong economic boost to the Howard.

"The county has been in the bill and out of the bill," Bobo said. "We wanted to get off the dime."

Tipton Airport at Fort Meade is a 366-acre parcel south of Routes 32 and 198 about two miles from the Howard County line. It closed in 1995 as part of the Army's Base Realignment and Closure Act.

Possible liability problems stem from buried munitions and other potential hazards left on the property from its years of use by the Army.

The Army has cleaned up most of the site and says it would remain liable for any problems from materials left behind, said Don McClow, Fort Meade spokesman. The counties would be liable for any problems stemming from the operation of the airport, he said.

Del. Phillip D. Bissett, an Anne Arundel County Republican and the bill's sponsor, says he believes the Army will address the issue of liability properly. So does Sam Minnitte, chief of staff to Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary.

But Ecker isn't so sure.

Anne Arundel County would own the property after leasing it for 25 years from the Army. Ecker said he believes the lease needs stronger liability assurances from the Army.

Details of initial lease

In the initial lease, Anne Arundel would receive three buildings on about 2.5 acres, said John Lucas, airport manager.

Lucas estimated that that portion would be open by the summer. The rest of the airport will open later.

McClow said the Army has cleaned up more than 92 percent of Tipton, including removal of unexploded ordnance.

Three landfills, a hangar and a fire training center need to be surveyed to see if hazardous materials are present, McClow said.

The initial draft from that study will be available by next month or in April, and final recommendations by the fall, he said.

Supporters have big plans for the airport.

Lucas will request $20 million in federal grants for airport improvements, such as a terminal.

Civilian pilots optimistic

Ed Cochran, chairman of the Howard County Tipton Advisory Committee, representing area civilian pilots, said he was optimistic about Tuesday's meeting.

Pilots hope that Howard will sign on to the bill to give Tipton more influence as a regional airport, but Cochran told the delegation that they are mainly eager to move forward.

"We don't want to see the airport get hung up by one county if the other is ready to proceed," he said.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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