Oct. 09--ST. MARYS -- Three acts of vandalism at the St. Marys Airport this year probably would not have happened if the facility was surrounded by a security fence. At least, that's what officials who oversee airport operations say.
The Georgia Department of Transportation has expressed a willingness to pay 95 percent of the $500,000 it would cost to build a fence to secure the airport. But city officials have one major opponent: the U.S. Navy.
Navy officials say the airport, less than two miles from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, is a security and safety threat. They reiterated their position to city officials before a city council meeting Monday.
"The Navy is very much opposed to anything to improve the airport," Mayor Bill Deloughy reported.
In an email to city officials, base commander Capt. Harvey Guffey Jr. said the Navy has security concerns about the general aviation airport and wants it moved.
"The Navy's position on those issues has not changed, nor has our position regarding improvements or further developments to the airport," Guffey wrote.
The Navy's opposition to improvements places the city and the St. Marys Airport Authority in a dilemma because of the potential for liability from vandalism at the airport if they do nothing. In each instance this year, vandals smashed runway lights, leaving thick shards of glass on the runway. Airport authority members say they would face a potentially costly lawsuit if an accident occurred during takeoff or landing as a result of vandalism.
"If that airport is not adequately secured and a serious accident happens, the authority can be sued," said Frank Drane, an airport authority member and a lawyer.
The city has to decide whether it is more important to maintain a good relationship with the Navy or to have perimeter fencing at the airport.
City officials plan to relocate the airport but are uncertain of where and when it will happen. They are waiting to see if Camden County is selected from among three finalists as the site of a commercial spaceport.
Another problem is, if the city would receive a grant to help pay for fencing and move the airport before its estimated 20-year-life, it would be responsible for a pro rata refund.
"If we move the airport, the FAA will have to be repaid," Deloughy said. "I do think we need to address it at some point in time."
A city council special meeting to discuss the issue is at 6:30 p.m. today at the Ward Hernandez Building, 400 Osborne St., St. Marys. Officials from Kings Bay have been invited.
-- Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at email@example.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.
Copyright 2013 - The Brunswick News, Ga.
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