FAA cuts new fee for terminal, may seek repayment

Jul. 10--In another hard reminder of the failed terminal project at Myrtle Beach International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration has revoked Horry County's authority to collect $111 million in passenger fees meant to pay for the project over two decades.

The county was to begin collecting the passenger fees later this summer but abandoned the plan when the terminal project was quashed in April by a city appearance board.

Meanwhile, the FAA is still interested in how much federal money Horry County spent on the terminal plans and may ask that some or all of the money be repaid, said Scott Seritt, manager of the FAA's Atlanta Airports Division.

A review of the county's terminal finances is likely within the next 30 days, Seritt said.

"We have been giving them a little bit of time to wrap up their final cost," he said.

Horry County is in the process of collecting and paying all its bills from terminal contractors and consultants. It has agreed to help the with the FAA review, Seritt said.

Airport spokesman and County Attorney John Weaver was out of town Monday and could not be immediately reached for comment.

The FAA hasn't alleged any of the federal grant money was misspent, and it will remain unclear how much funding hangs in the balance until the FAA reviews county expenditures.

The county could owe up to $16 million that's been paid out in federal airport grants over the eight years of work on the terminal, according to the FAA.

"We have expended millions of dollars on planning, environmental and design," Seritt wrote to Horry County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland in April. "While we believe that everyone has acted in good faith and have been blindsided by an unexpected turn of events, we will need to reconcile the expenditure of the federal funds."

As the county wraps up eight years of work on the west-side terminal, a new effort to expand Myrtle Beach International Airport is under way.

An Horry County ad hoc committee of county lawmakers, city officials and businessmen will meet next week and likely continue discussions of expanding the existing eight-gate airport terminal.

"That's where it makes sense, and you are going to save an awful lot of money," said Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes, who sits on the ad hoc committee.

But finding funding for any new project might be a major hurdle, Rhodes said.

The county, city and residents must show state and federal lawmakers -- those who hold the purse strings -- that they are unified behind any new plan, he said.

The ad hoc committee is charged with choosing an expansion plan, which then must be approved by Horry County Council.

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If you go

What -- Airport ad hoc committee meeting

When -- 10 a.m. July 18

Where -- Upstairs conference room, Myrtle Beach International Airport

Why -- Since plans for a new 14-gate, west-side terminal were abandoned, the ad hoc committee of city and county leaders has taken up the task of airport expansion.

Contact TRAVIS TRITTEN at 626-0303 or ttritten@thesunnews.com

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