Horry County Council sent a message to Washington, D.C., lawmakers Tuesday, saying it is still behind an estimated $200 million terminal project at Myrtle Beach International Airport.
The council voted to move ahead with the project despite some reservations. County Attorney John Weaver said representatives such as Lindsey Graham and Henry Brown are becoming uneasy as the council works through a year of frustration over terminal costs and an ongoing dispute with an engineering contractor.
The actual cost of the project will still not be known until Dec. 19, when the project management company announces a firm number. But the county would likely have never received funding to pay for the project if it waited and did not take a stand Tuesday, Weaver said.
The county needs help in Washington to pull down much-needed Federal Aviation Administration money, a funding source that could make or break the terminal project, and the lawmakers look for county cues before putting in the time and effort, Weaver said.
"There has been some concern by those in Washington whether there is still desire from this council for a new 14-gate terminal on the west side of the airport," he said. The council vote will be "used hopefully to show the political commitment this council has."
Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland said years of work have gone into the terminal proposal but persistent criticism and opposition are threatening to jeopardize it.
"Those [federal] representatives are beginning to wonder if the council still wants them to work on its behalf on this terminal," she said.
Voting to support the airport required two big assumptions: that the coming price tag will be within the county budget and that the FAA will substantially fund the project.
"This [vote] is based on a positive assumption rather than a negative assumption," Weaver said.
Having Washington lawmakers behind the project could also eventually effect state funding, which is not on the table now, he said. Large project funding often has a snowball effect, with funding and support attracting more funding and support.
Councilman Marion Foxworth said terminal funding and cost could work out well. "Given those two assumptions, I will vote for it. That could happen."
U.S. Rep. Henry Brown said that local support, including financial support, will be critical to the project and he thinks the county is dedicated.
"Everything I've seen indicates that they are," Brown said. "I feel confident the community is behind it too." U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint could not be reached for comment late Tuesday night.
The council is not required to follow through with the project despite the vote. Weaver said it may change its mind anytime, especially if costs come in too high or the FAA money does not materialize.
Councilmen Mike Ryan and Paul Prince voted "no."
Councilman Mike Ryan said he did not want to vote to support a project without first knowing the cost and that the vote might not mean a whole lot to federal lawmakers.
"I question how much that would mean to me if I was up there [in Washington] myself," he said.
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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.
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.
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.
Issues over development at Myrtle Beach continue