WASHINGTON – Officials from Anne Arundel County and Fort Meade have agreed to a lease that clears the way for the county to take over the fort’s Tipton Airport.
Final approval of the lease by the Department of the Army is imminent, said Don McClow, a spokesman for Fort Meade, and county operation of the airport could begin within six months.
Although Anne Arundel is already home to Baltimore- Washington International Airport and Lee Airport in Edgewater, those airports “are tiny versus mega,” said David Almy, a member of the Tipton Airport Authority, which will run the facility.
The value of Tipton, Almy said, is that it is medium-sized. The county plans to use it as a general aviation airport for business and private planes.
“There are enormous quality of life and economic benefits that come with the airport,” said Almy. “For instance, it would attract businesses.”
Although the airport will not initially turn a profit, he said, “the intent is that the airport will become profitable.” In the meantime, the county will issue bonds to build the capital needed to run the airport, he said.
The county’s takeover of the airport has been delayed by environmental problems on the site. The Environmental Protection Agency put Fort Meade, including the airport, on its Superfund list in late July because landfills there contain ammunition, artillery shells and toxins.
“The lease will only include those parcels of land” that have had the waste removed, said McClow. Those areas that have been cleared so far include three hangars and a large portion of the runway.
The county will not actually own the land until the EPA removes the airport from its Superfund list.
McClow said that Tipton is being looked at by the EPA only because it is part of Fort Meade. But EPA officials said the airport had problems of its own.
“What got it [Tipton] on the list is contamination,” said Henry J. Sokolowski, chief of the EPA division overseeing federal facilities on the Superfund list.
The EPA said it was concerned that the groundwater and soil on the base — including the airport — could be polluted.
Although Fort Meade did not make the list until July, the Army has been cleaning up the 366-acre airport since the early 1990s, said McClow.
“The Army, by law, cannot turn over land that is subjected to unexploded ordnance cleanup,” he said. The Army cleanup effort is 95 percent complete, said McClow.
The airport became available to the county after Fort Meade was sharply downsized in 1988 under the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC). More than 8,000 of the fort’s original 13,000 acres were given to the Department of the Interior to be added to the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge and the airport was designated to be given to Anne Arundel County.
“While we are unhappy to see any facility in the county BRAC’ed, this is a very good use of a BRAC facility,” said Susan Sullam, a spokeswoman for Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore.
The airport authority was formed in December to operate the airport once the county took over the property.
Almy said the county expects to take over the lease in the next six months, but he does not believe it will own the airport for at least a year.
“We are not as concerned with ownership as we are at getting the airport up and running,” he said.
“The Tipton site is relatively clean,” said Almy. He said that the EPA indicated about three weeks ago that Tipton Airport is not part of the Fort Meade contamination issue.
Sokolowski said that the site will not be removed from the Superfund list for at least six months and more likely, one year. The county can still take out a lease on the land if it remains on the list, he said.