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"Vote Kills New Myrtle Beach Terminal"
Friday, April 27, 2007
Vote Kills New Myrtle Beach Terminal
The Myrtle Beach (SC) Sun News
There will not be a new terminal at the Myrtle Beach International Airport
any time soon.
An eight-year mission to expand the airport's seven-gate terminal was
brought to a halt Thursday when a volunteer city review board unanimously
rejected the plans -- a move that astonished county officials.
After four months of intense workshops that focused largely on the
building's physical appearance, members of the Community Appearance Board
rejected the estimated $229 million terminal, citing the same fundamental
objections they had in their first meeting with the county in December.
The new terminal would have been too close to residential development on the
former Air Force Base next door, where thousands of new residents are
expected in the next decade, and would create too many problems with noise,
floodlights and traffic, board members said.
They did say they loved the final look of the building, which they called
The decision shocked many city and county officials.
"I am still trying to breathe," County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland said.
"I thought [board members] would demand pretty extensive changes that might
push it out of reach financially. I just simply didn't expect them to vote
it down -- until I got in there and started hearing how the meeting was
The decision will likely hurt local governments' chances of getting federal
and state money for future projects, as well as damage the fragile
relationship between the city and the county, elected officials said.
There were no plans Thursday to take a different approach to solving airport
crowding, such as expanding the existing terminal, county officials said.
Now, problems during the airport's busy times will get worse, said County
Attorney John Weaver, who led the county's effort in front of the board.
The county will not appeal the decision in court because it would likely
draw out the project for years and drive construction costs too high, Weaver
Future discussions could include expansion of the existing terminal, an
option a 2003 county analysis found to have major drawbacks, or a regional
airport, said County Councilman Marion Foxworth, who was undecided on
whether to support a new terminal project.
But that won't happen anytime soon, said Gilland, who has supported the
project since its inception in 1999.
"I think for a long time we are going to do nothing," Gilland said. "We'd
have to go back before that same Community Appearance Board, and it won't be
while I'm chairman."
The terminal was a visionary answer to growing the local economy and moving
Myrtle Beach and Horry County into the future, she said.
The county, which owns and operates the airport, has been trying to get the
board's approval since December. All oceanfront residential and commercial
construction projects in city limits must pass the board before developers
can receive building permits.
The county has spent nearly $18 million on architects, consultants,
engineers and designers, with half the funding from the Federal Aviation
Administration and half from airport revenue, Weaver said.
Since January, the county has spent more than $300,000 working with the
board. Had the board approved the project, the county would have spent an
additional $600,000 finalizing the plans and getting another price estimate,
On the city side, staff engineers spent around 219 hours working on the
plans, said Bruce Boulineau, construction services director.
The rejection will hurt the city's chances of getting favors or concessions
from the county in the future and will damage relations between the two
bodies, Myrtle Beach City Councilman Randal Wallace said.
"It's gonna be chilly, to put it bluntly," he said. "I cannot imagine this
not upsetting them. I have already been hearing it through back channels.
... [The board has] just undone a lot of the good will between the city and
the county, and they've known that for four months."
Officials are also worried about whether federal and state officials will
trust local leadership with their political capital in the future.
"There are going to be repercussions from this that will last for years,"
Gilland said. "It will affect funds coming our way from D.C. We're not going
to be on their radar screen for a while. That's just the way it works."
During the final meeting, board members spent a long time criticizing the
plan to move the terminal from the east side to the west side of the runway.
They questioned the county's assertion that it makes more financial sense to
build a new terminal than expand the current one.
"How is that even remotely possible?" CAB Chairman Larry Bragg said. "How
could someone with a straight face do a report and say it would cost the
same amount of money to do something on the east side as it would on the
Board member Birgit Darby read from a prepared statement after the county's
nearly three-hour-long presentation.
"My major concerns on this project is the enormous, adverse impact this
terminal will have on the surrounding residents," she said. "The safety and
health issues of the people living in the area of this proposed terminal
should be uppermost in our minds. ... In good conscience, I cannot support
State Rep. Tracy Edge said the decision means it's time to turn elsewhere.
"I'm going to try to jump-start a regional airport authority and approach it
from that angle," said Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach. "There's no sense in
waiting any more."
A study on a regional airport is under way, sponsored by the North Eastern
Strategic Alliance, a political and economic development network.
NESA adopted the regional airport as one of its key elements for the future
of the region, along with Interstate 73 and the international trade center
in Myrtle Beach.
The Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority, which has overseen the base's
transition back to civilian use, had pledged up to $10 million toward the
new terminal for unfunded items.
Buddy Styers, head of the authority, said his board might consider using
those funds to extend Harrelson Boulevard, which would connect the two major
thoroughfares U.S. 17 Business and U.S. 17 Bypass.
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