Communities want a say in running Tipton Airport Some question need for an airport authority, fear increased traffic

March 25, 1997|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

As the Gary administration pushes for legislation to allow establishment of an authority to operate Tipton Airport once it's reopened, some elected officials and community leaders want to make sure that nearby communities have a say in how it's run.

At stake, they say, are decisions that could increase traffic at the former military airfield at Fort Meade, such as lengthening the runway or building a control tower.

Looming in their minds is the specter of booming Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum, which began as the much more modest Friendship Airport.

County officials and airport supporters say a private authority appointed by the County Council would provide chances for community input.

But at least one delegate, Glen Burnie Republican Michael W. Burns, is against allowing the establishment of the authority.

A reopened Tipton would bring more air traffic to a region congested with traffic from BWI, Burns said. Suburban Airport in Laurel, Lee Airport in Edgewater and BWI should be enough to serve pilots of small planes, he said.

"The folks in my neck of the woods don't see the need for another airport in the area," Burns said.

The 310-acre airfield at routes 198 and 32 is the last Fort Meade parcel that will be turned over to civilian use as part of the 1988 Base Realignment and Closure Act.

Closed since 1995 to allow an Army contractor to clear unexploded ordnance, the property contains a 3,000-foot runway, three hangars and a fuel station.

The county initially teamed with Howard County to plan the reopening of Tipton for mostly single-engine, twin-engine and helicopter traffic. But Howard County backed away from assuming control last year until it completed its own study of landfills on the property.

Tipton would probably have 50,000 takeoffs and landings a year, below its peak as a military airport, said Samuel F. Minnitte, chief of staff for County Executive John G. Gary.

But 10 to 15 years after it opens, it could be home to as many as 300 airplanes and have more than 130,000 takeoffs and landings a year, Minnitte told the county delegation Friday.

Del. Marsha G. Perry said her support for the airport bill hinges on "tighter" legislation to ensure that the community has a say in safety and "quality of life" issues.

"I am not in opposition to a general aviation airfield," Perry, a Crofton Democrat, said when the delegation discussed the bill. "My concern is the control issue."

Perry is particularly concerned about who would decide whether the runway is lengthened to 4,000 feet, possibly attracting more pilots. And Del. Mary Ann Love, a Glen Burnie Democrat, wanted to know whether an airport tower would be built to control traffic.

Towers are generally so expensive that only large airports can afford them, said John Lucas, manager of Tipton. And lengthening the runway and other construction probably would be done with Federal Aviation Administration money, which requires a public hearing under Federal Aviation Administration rules, Minnitte said.

"The interest here is for lots of local control," Minnitte said.

Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association and a member of the Tipton Advisory Committee, said he wasn't worried that Tipton might grow too much.

He pointed out that several years ago, the community, through the Fort Meade Coordinating Council, limited extension of the runway to 4,000 feet and limited the number of planes to 300.

Smallwood said the opening of Tipton could be good for his community if it lured pilots away from Suburban, which is closer to homes.

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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