Cleanup ordered by EPA could speed Tipton transfer Airfield site contains unexploded ordnance

September 11, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered a cleanup of unexploded ordnance at Fort Meade's Tipton Airport in hopes of speeding the transfer of the airfield to the county for public use.

As early as January, the EPA could separate the 366-acre airport parcel from highly polluted post properties that are targeted for a multimillion-dollar cleanup, officials said. Pilots could be using the field soon thereafter.

bTC "Our first priority is the Tipton parcel," said Henry J. Sokolowski, chief of the EPA division overseeing federal facilities on the Superfund list of the nation's most environmentally hazardous sites. "Once the work is done, there's no reason why the [airport] can't be taken off the list."

As part of a nationwide base-realignment program, the Army was ordered in 1988 to get rid of the airfield.

In late July, the base was named one of the worst pollution sites in the United States and was included on the Superfund list, triggering fears that the transfer to the county would be delayed again.

The EPA, which had been working with the Army on decontamination programs, targeted several contaminated parcels, including airfield land containing unexploded ordnance from a decades-old firing range.

The cleanup apparently will cause only a slight delay.

In the meantime, the county, the EPA and Fort Meade are working on leases that would allow officials of the county's Tipton Airport Authority to begin repairing the hangars, runway and other facilities needed to make the airport operable.

The two plans, one for a cleanup and complete transfer of the airfield, the other for leases allowing use of the property, are alternative ways of achieving public use of the airport.

"We're trying to get it to them as soon as we can," said Sara Gracey, an environmental coordinator with Fort Meade. "The finished product is the transfer of that airfield. If we're not ready to transfer, the lease is the fastest thing we can do to get them in there using it."

In June, the Anne Arundel County Council approved a lease that would give the aviation authority the use of three hangars and a parking lot. The lease has been signed by county officials and sent to the Pentagon, but aviation authority officials said they have not received their copy of the agreement to make it official.

They do not expect to see it for another month, said David Almy, spokesman for the authority.

A second lease, which would allow the use of an additional 280 acres, including a 3,000-foot runway, is expected to be delivered to county officials for signing by the end of the month, Gracey said.

Thirty acres at the westernmost tip of the property and two smaller sites near Route 198, where the Army is removing ordnance and cleaning up, will remain in the Army's hands, Gracey said. The county does not need that land to run the airport, she said.

Nicholas J. DiNardo, the EPA project manager, said the agency is working to speed the transfer of the airport to the county. "As far as the EPA's concerned, there's no reason why Jan. 1, they can't be out there," he said.

Almy said he was glad to hear of the EPA's commitment, but with the first lease still pending, he remained skeptical.

"We do not expect planes to be flying by the end of the year, but maybe by the spring," Almy said. "This is a long history, and almost nothing has happened on schedule."

Pub Date: 9/11/98

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