Vote Kills New Myrtle Beach Terminal

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."

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 west?"

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 this project."

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.

Staff Writer Zane Wilson contributed to this report.Contact LISA FLEISHER at 626-0317 or lfleisher@thesunnews.com [mailto:lfleisher@thesunnews.com].

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On Page 6A

The timeline of events for Horry County's plans for a new terminal at the Myrtle Beach International Airport

What people had to say after the board unanimously rejected the plans

What is the Community Appearance Board?

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

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