ANNAPOLIS – Howard County’s on again, off again relationship with Tipton Airport is on again – sort of.
On Tuesday, County Executive Charles Ecker told his local delegation that he would support Howard’s inclusion in Anne Arundel County legislation setting up an authority to manage the Fort Meade property, as long as concerns about liability are resolved.
County lawmakers will draft an amendment to the Anne Arundel bill, giving Howard the option to be included if the 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, D-Howard, 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 county.
“The county has been in the bill and out of the bill,” Bobo said. “We wanted to get off the dime.”
Tipton Airport is a 366-acre parcel of land south of state Routes 32 and 198 about two miles from the Howard County border. It closed in 1995 as part of the Army’s Base Realignment and Closure Act.
Anything attributable to the Army remains Army liability forever, but the county would be liable if a problem was traced to its operation of the facility, said Don McClow, Fort Meade spokesman.
Del. Phillip Bissett, R-Anne Arundel, the bill’s sponsor, believes the Army will properly address the issue of liability. So does Sam Minnitte, chief of staff to Anne Arundel County Executive John Gary.
Ecker isn’t so sure.
While ownership eventually will be transferred to Anne Arundel County, the property would be leased from the Army for 25 years. Ecker wants the Army to include liability assurances because, he said, the county would be liable under the proposed lease.
In the initial lease, Anne Arundel County would receive three buildings on about 2.5 acres, said John Lucas, airport manager. He estimates that portion will 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 removing unexploded ordnance.
Remaining are surveys of three landfills, a hangar and a fire training center to see if hazardous materials are on-site, McClow said. The initial draft from that study will be available by March or 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 building a terminal.
Ed Cochran, chairman of the Howard County Tipton Advisory Committee, said he was optimistic about Tuesday’s meeting. Pilots hope Howard will sign onto the bill to give Tipton more clout as a regional airport, but Cochran told the delegation they were simply anxious 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. -30-