Apr. 27--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 "stunning."
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 going."
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 said.
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, he said.
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."
An FAA letter to the county Monday warned it may need to recoup "some or all of the federal funds expended on this project" if the county deems the terminal a dead issue.
The 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.
Issues over development at Myrtle Beach continue
The new $183 million terminal would be across the runway from the current terminal and have 14 gates, instead of the current seven.