Would an expedited Horry County probe of management quality at Myrtle Beach International Airport undermine the hoped-for federal funding for the proposed airport terminal? That's what council Chairwoman Liz Gilland contends.
In response to two council members' proposal that a management study be initiated early next month, Gilland said last week that a near-term study would be ill-timed. News reports on management problems, she said, could impel the Federal Aviation Administration to deny the county's request for all or part of the $200 million needed to pay for the new 14-gate terminal on the airport's west side.
Her reasoning, while understandable, doesn't wash. It's already clear to anyone who's been paying attention (including, presumably, the FAA) that a majority of council members have lost confidence in the administration of Airport Director Bob Kemp and want to look at alternative means of managing the airport. This is not a new dispute. It boiled up into the limelight last winter at the council's budget retreat and has been raging ever since.
The idea for an airport-management study came up a few months back, as a compromise between council members who want alternative airport management and those who don't. The prevalent feeling (or so it seemed) was that a neutral study by a respected consultant either would affirm the current airport-management mode (as a county department overseen by the county administrator) or recommend alternatives that might work better for this fast-growing tourism facility.
But when the study came up earlier this month for council funding, the wheels came off. In a slick budgetary move, the four council members who support Kemp plunged the $105,000 appropriation for the study into political cold storage, where it appeared fated to rest for months. It takes nine votes of the 12-member council to change an annual budget once it's approved. Only eight members (Gilland among them) voted to pay for the study.
Last week, however, Councilmen Mark Lazarus and Marion Foxworth, in an equally slick countermove, found the $105,000 needed to finance the study in an airport appropriation in this year's budget. Spending it requires only a simple council majority. The council's first chance to approve the study comes Jan. 10. If it's approved, the management consultant the county already has chosen could begin gathering data shortly thereafter.
The council should follow the Lazarus-Foxworth lead. The future of the local tourism economy, in large part, depends on the airport - in the "hardware" and "software" senses of the word.
It's true, as Gilland implies, that the council must sustain a relentless focus on paying for the new terminal - much-needed new hardware. But even the FAA, we're betting, understands that the council also must ensure that airport is not stuck with Windows 3.1 when it could and should be running Windows XP.
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The $105,000 study would look at how efficiently the airport balances property leases, an increasing amount of passengers, and a $200 million terminal project.
If approved, the study would look at how well the airport staff juggles recent increases in passengers, airport leases for companies such as AvCraft and day-to-day work on a $200 million terminal...
The proposed $105,000 study would have shined a spotlight on airport operations and management as the county tries to build a $200 million terminal.
The county and HNTB Architecture Inc. of Washington, D.C., wrangled for months over an additional $7.85 million to $8.75 million the company said it was owed for terminal design and construction...