Deadline Missed on Myrtle Beach Airport Appraisal

A new cost estimate for the troubled terminal project at Myrtle Beach International Airport was not ready Monday despite a deadline set for the company managing the project.

Skanska USA was supposed to give Horry County a more accurate guess on the total cost of the project, which is likely to be at least $200 million, after finishing half of the terminal design work.

The missed deadline is the latest in a year of delays, legal wrangling, fluctuating costs and County Council frustration over the proposed 14-gate terminal. The terminal is needed to relieve crowding at the airport, and economic leaders say it is critical to expand the area's tourism industry in the future.

"Last week, Skanska said some of their [subcontractors] wanted to fine-tune the price so it would be closer to reality," County Attorney John Weaver said.

Skanska referred all questions back to Horry County.

There has been progress on design of the terminal, moving the county closer to getting a guaranteed price on the project from contractors, Weaver said.

"On average, we have got 50 percent of all the working documents we need," he said.

Airport Director Bob Kemp said the Skanska deadline was extended to the first week of January and that the extension will not affect the project.

Progress on the terminal has lagged behind estimates in January. Kemp said then that contractors would have finished 65 percent of designs and given the county a final guaranteed cost of the terminal project by summer.

"It is not uncommon for huge projects like this to hit delays," Kemp said.

He said the project has had two major setbacks: an early study of what side of the runway the terminal should be built on and a County Council freeze on the project from March to July due to cost concerns.

There also is an ongoing dispute between Horry County and its hired engineering firm, HNTB Architecture Inc. of Washington, D.C., over design fees.

County Council said last month that it will fight the company over claims that it is owed millions in additional fees.

Kemp said there has been no agreement reached and the county hopes the dispute will not delay the project.

County Council passed a vote of support for the project last month to quell concerns of politicians in Washington that the project is in doubt and to underscore the need for federal funding.

Expansion is becoming a more dire need at the airport.

This year the number of passengers boarding planes is expected to exceed 800,000, which would break record traffic reached in 2000.

The tourism industry, including golf interests, says the new terminal is key to future growth and prosperity. The hope is that a larger terminal will accommodate bringing more national and international visitors to the Grand Strand.

Still, some on the council remain skeptical about building a new terminal.

Councilman Mike Ryan questioned the vote last month, and Monday he said the setback does not bode well for the terminal project in general.

"The smoke clouds I just don't think look good," Ryan said. "From the start, a couple of us [on the council] questioned whether this was going to happen, and it looks like that [concern] is coming true."

Ryan said the county might get a better deal for its money by just expanding the existing airport terminal.

Myrtle Beach Sun News

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