Horry County has fired the company it contracted to design a new terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport.
The county and HNTB Architecture Inc. of Washington, D.C., wrangled for months over an additional $7.85 million to $8.75 million - double the original fee - the company said it was owed for terminal design and construction oversight.
The company was notified in a letter dated Jan. 5 from County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland, who said the two parties were unable to reach an agreement on the money.
It is unclear how much this will delay the project, which has been dogged by delays and ballooning costs over the past year.
A new 14-gate terminal would make room for an increasing number of travelers to the Grand Strand, and supporters say it is critical to the future of area tourism.
"I don't think there is going to be considerable delay," Gilland said Monday.
In the letter, she asked HNTB to turn over any terminal designs that were completed and submit a bill.
Gilland wrote that the firm's actions were "unjustified and unprofessional."
The architecture firm could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Meanwhile, County Council is expected to announce today the newest cost estimate for the terminal and launch a study of airport management.
County staff and council members met with the project's lead contractor, Skanska USA, on Monday but declined to release the new estimate, which is based on terminal plans that are 50 percent complete.
Gilland said the number will be made public at a County Council meeting tonight.
Determining how much it will cost has been the biggest issue for the terminal, which is scheduled to open in 2008. The estimates have ranged from $180 million to $254 million. Council members set a cap of $200 million for the terminal.
Skanska is in charge of managing the project and its various contractors.
HNTB stopped design work Dec. 12 while it waited for the new cost estimate. The stop precipitated the dismissal, according to the county.
The cost estimate was to be completed Dec. 19, but Skanska missed that deadline.
Councilman Mark Lazarus said he was unsure whether the firing was justified.
HNTB might have stopped its design work because of the possibility County Council could change plans after seeing Skanska's cost estimate, Lazarus said.
"Why go too far if they don't have to?" he asked.
The council also will decide today whether to launch a study into the efficiency of airport management.
The $105,000 study has divided the council in the past and was narrowly defeated last month. Councilman Marion Foxworth, who sponsored a reconsideration, said it's the council's duty to ensure the airport is run efficiently, and he expects the study to be passed by the council today.
Gilland said studying the management while working on the terminal project is bad timing but there is no reason to argue over it.
"I think we have all come to the conclusion that we are going to go ahead and do the study," she said.
Liz Gilland | Horry County Council chairwoman
What | Horry County Council meeting
When | 6 p.m. today
Where | Government and Justice Center in Conway
On the agenda | The newest cost estimate for the county's planned airport terminal and a council vote on a proposed airport management study
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A new terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport will cost $228.8 million - nearly $29 million over budget, according to new contractor estimates.
The FAA grant will be reviewed by the House and Senate for a month and, if approved, will narrow the funding needed for a terminal to $15 million.
There is still no final cost estimate for the 14-gate terminal, despite months of work by contractors, and Horry County is facing a $60 million to $108 million funding gap.
The money set aside to prepare the terminal for construction is spent and the county is left with design plans that are far from complete.