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Sat, Apr 28, 2007

New Myrtle Beach Terminal Voted Down

Expansion Proposal Dashed Over Concerns About Nearby Development

Eight years of hopes and plans to expand the Myrtle Beach International Airport's seven-gate terminal were dashed Thursday, when a volunteer city review board rejected those plans by a unanimous vote.

The Community Appearance Board ultimately rejected the $229 million terminal after four months of intense workshops that focused mainly on the building's physical appearance, saying a new terminal would have been too close to a residential development on the former Air Force Base next to the airport.

Over the next 10 years, thousands of new residents are expected to inhabit the area... and a new terminal would create too many problems with noise, floodlights and traffic, board members said.

But, they "loved" the final look of the building and called it "stunning," according to South Carolina's The Sun.

Stunned is a word that described many city and county officials after the board's vote.

"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 going."

Over-crowding problems during the airport's busy times will get worse, predicts County Attorney John Weaver, who led the county's effort in front of the board. There are currently no other plans for solving airport crowding, such as expanding the existing terminal.

According to Weaver, 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.

Elected officials are projecting doom and gloom for the aftermath of this decision. It will likely hurt local governments' chances of obtaining federal and state money in the future as well as further damaging the "fragile" city/county relationship.

Future discussions 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."

She added the new terminal was a "visionary answer" to growing the local economy and moving Myrtle Beach and Horry County into the future.
Since December, when the board first met, Horry County, which owns and operates the airport, has been trying to get their approval. All oceanfront residential and commercial construction projects within the city limits must pass the board before developers can be issued any permits.

Nearly $18 million has already been spent by the county on architects, consultants, engineers and designers.  Half this amount came from the FAA, the other half from airport revenue, Weaver said.

Just since January, the county spent more than $300,000 trying to work with the board. Had the project been approved, the county would have had to shell out an additional $600,000 finalizing the plans and getting another price estimate, he said.

As for the city, Bruce Boulineau, construction services director said, staff engineers spent about 219 hours working on the plans. The rejection has decreased the city's chances of "getting favors or concessions" from the county in the future and "will damage relations" between the two entities, 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."

"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."

At the last meeting, the board criticized the plan moving the terminal from the east side to the west side of the runway and questioned the financial sense in building a new terminal that expanding 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 west?"

"My major concerns on this project is the enormous, adverse impact this terminal will have on the surrounding residents," board member Birgit Darby 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 this project."

State Rep. Tracy Edge said this decision indicates it's time to try another approach.

The North Eastern Strategic Alliance is a political and economic development network that is currently sponsoring a study on a regional airport for the area. NESA says a regional airport is one of the key elements for the future of the region.

"I'm going to try to jump-start a regional airport authority and approach it from that angle," said Edge. "There's no sense in waiting any more."

FMI: www.myrtlebeachairport.com/

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