Feds Pressure on Myrtle Beach to Pay Back Funds

May 10--Horry County has about a month to decide on expansion plans for the Myrtle Beach airport or face losing $9.7 million in annual federal funding, the FAA said Wednesday.

The county has been stalled since a city appearance board rejected its planned 14-gate terminal last month, a move that shattered county efforts and also ground FAA terminal funding plans to a standstill.

Meanwhile, a plan to rekindle the airport expansion by creating a joint city-county board was unveiled by a group of six County Council members this week. But it was not scheduled for a vote before council Tuesday as the group requested.

The proposal missed a scheduling deadline and was not included on the agenda for the upcoming council meeting Tuesday in Conway, Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland said.

It can be added to the agenda by any councilmember at the start of the meeting, according to council bylaws.

"I fully expect a move [Tuesday] to add it to the agenda, and we need to talk about the issue on the record as a council," said Gilland, who recently began strictly enforcing deadlines for adding items to council agendas.

The group of councilmen hope a joint committee to study airport expansion could help sooth political tensions with the city.

Tempers have flared over the Community Appearance Board's rejection of the terminal last month.

Only one County Council vote in favor of the proposal is needed for work to begin on the effort.

The county is under increasing pressure to chart some new course for expansion.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which has millions of dollars invested in the possibly defunct terminal project, and subcontractors on the terminal project are anxiously waiting to see what the county will do now.

In all, the FAA granted the terminal $16 million plus a guarantee of another $39 million over the next seven years, said Scott Seritt, manager of the FAA Atlanta airports district.

Horry County risks losing $9.7 million in funding this year alone -- the funding will go to airport projects in other parts of the United States -- if the county doesn't find a way to proceed with expansion, Seritt said.

"I would say we probably have a month, maybe a little longer, but not much," he said.

If the county decides expansion plans are dead, it could be required to pay back some or all of the $16 million in terminal project grants, Seritt said.

County Administrator Danny Knight said the council needs to give "direction as soon as possible" to county staff.

Though the terminal project was rejected by the CAB, all its various contractors are still on hold waiting to see if it is restarted, Airport Director Bob Kemp said.

"We have asked them to step back but not step down. ... We have not terminated anyone yet," Kemp said.

No new work is being done on the terminal, he said.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the county's Airport Advisory Committee requested its attorney look into whether Myrtle Beach breached its contract with Horry County when the CAB rejected the terminal.

The city signed an agreement with the county in 2004, agreeing to a division of airport money, a future terminal on the west side of the airport and improvements to Harrelson Boulevard.

Advisory board member Jon Allen said the city broke the agreement.

The board requested a legal opinion and then will decide whether to recommend the county pursue a case against the city.


If you go

What -- Horry County Council may discuss restarting airport expansion plans

When -- 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where -- Horry County Government and Justice Center, council chambers, 1301 Second Ave., Conway

Contact TRAVIS TRITTEN at 626-0303 or ttritten@thesunnews.com [mailto:ttritten@thesunnews.com].