The Federal Aviation Administration agreed Thursday to pay $43 million toward a new terminal at the Myrtle Beach International Airport.
Although that crucial piece of funding must still be approved by Congress, it was encouraging news for a $228.8 million project Horry County says is necessary for economic growth in the area. The project has been troubled by increasing costs and delays over the past year.
The FAA grant will be reviewed by the House and Senate for a month and, if approved, will narrow the funding still needed for a terminal to $15 million, according to current cost estimates.
"I am completely confident that within three years we will be flying out of that new terminal," County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland said.
An FAA contribution became even more important this month when the newest cost estimate for a terminal came in well over the county's $200 million budget.
Gilland said the terminal would be one of the most expensive capital projects ever in Horry County but is now within reach.
The FAA announcement came one week after Gilland traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss federal funding with U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint and U.S. Rep. Henry Brown.
"This is a big first step in making the new airport a reality," DeMint said in a prepared statement. "Together with over $80 million approved for I-73, the terminal will be another critical piece of the region's plan to diversify its economy and create jobs of the future."
The FAA funding will be reviewed by the House and Senate Appropriations committees and, if there are no objections, will be paid to the county over seven years.
The county hopes the state will put in the remaining $15 million needed for a terminal. In the meantime, it is appraising airport property to sell it or lease it and looking into what funding is available from the Transportation Security Administration, an agency created to keep airports safe after the terrorist attacks in 2001.
If all else fails, Horry County could borrow the additional money. It already plans to bond $70 million for the terminal and has the capacity to bond another $15 million, though it is still unclear whether County Council is willing to tap into that money.
Bonds are essentially loans made to the county and must be paid back to investors with interest. Borrowing too much money could stretch the county's finances and ability to borrow for projects in the future.
While the outlook on funding is brightening, cost is still an issue for the terminal - the current $228.8 million estimate is not final.
"We need to continue to lock down the cost figures," County Councilman Howard Barnard said. "We have a great estimate, but we need to get that more firm."
Design plans are only 50 percent complete, and contractors cannot guarantee the price tag until 65 percent of the plans are drawn up.
Design work is likely to be delayed since the county fired its architectural firm, HNTB Architecture Inc. of Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5 after a protracted dispute over how much the contractor should be paid.
Airport Manager Bob Kemp said Thursday the project's lead contractor, Skanska USA, could prepare a guaranteed price by the middle of the year, meaning the county will not have to pay for any cost increases after that point. The guaranteed maximum price was supposed to be finished about a year ago but has been delayed several times.
Liz Gilland | County Council chairwoman
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