Horry County, S.C. Council Returns to Airport Study Plan

Some Horry County Council members say they will resurrect a proposal in January to study the management of Myrtle Beach International Airport after it was narrowly defeated this month.

The $105,000 study would look at how efficiently the airport balances property leases, an increasing amount of passengers, a $200 million terminal project and a variety of other management functions.

Councilman Marion Foxworth said he co-sponsored a resolution with Councilman Mark Lazarus that would use excess money from an airport demolition project for the study. Both have been pushing for review of airport management for the past year.

"Both Mark and I have asked the county attorney to draft a resolution directing staff to fund the study out of existing airport monies," Foxworth said.

The move could face opposition from at least one other council member, and the council chairwoman said the move could endanger federal funding for the terminal project.

The proposed study was shot down with an 8-4 vote Dec. 13, when council supporters could not muster a nine-vote "super majority" needed to amend county budget plans.

Foxworth said no super majority of the council will be needed for the new resolution because the funding for the study already was approved for an existing airport project. Under council rules, the resolution would require only one council vote and support from a seven-member majority, he said.

"Basically, we are redirecting money that has already been appropriated" by the airport, Foxworth said.

The county allotted $250,000 to tear down storm-damaged buildings at the airport but used only about $100,000, leaving money for another project, Foxworth said.

Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland said pushing through an airport study now would be bad timing and could damage efforts to get federal funding for the $200 million terminal expansion project.

"I would prefer that the airport stay out of the headlines before we hear from the federal government," Gilland said.

"Every time we make news with the airport it's cause for concern."

The county has been working to build a new 14-gate terminal on the west side of the airport runway that could handle anticipated passenger increases and bolster the area's tourism economy. The project has been troubled with fluctuating costs and an ongoing contractor dispute over millions of dollars.

Federal officials in Washington, D.C., are monitoring the project and might be persuaded against giving the county badly needed funding if County Council appears divided or doubtful, Gilland said.

The county originally hoped to hear about funding in the fall, but Gilland now says the federal government could make a decision in the coming weeks.

Councilman Harold Worley, who voted against the study this month, said the management study resolution will not go directly to the council Jan. 10 for a vote, as Foxworth and Lazarus plan.

"All this is going to have to go through the [council] Administration Committee. We will decide on that committee what happens," he said.

Worley said the airport project has failed to draw funding - it probably won't get the funding needed without intensive lobbying from the county - and now some council members want to shift blame to airport staff.

"It is not right to make them scapegoats," he said.

Myrtle Beach Sun News

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