Study Says Shut Down St. Marys Airport

May 14--ST. MARYS -- The Kings Bay Joint Land Use Study recommends the city close its municipal airport in its current location.

The study was made public Tuesday after the Camden County Joint Development Authority approved a resolution in support of the 89-page document, including the preliminary recommendation that the only airport in use in Camden County be shut down.

The airport, used by small private aircraft, is considered a security and safety concern to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, about a half mile away.

"The Georgia Aviation System Plan, prepared by GDOT, concluded that the airport is not capable of meeting its recommended system role due to its current location," the study said. "Its operation has been unduly constrained, and a relocation of the airport is recommended by the Georgia Aviation System Plan 10."

The study recommended Navy and city officials meet with the different agencies that will determine what, if any, financial penalties the city would face by closing the airport.

The city should work with the base "to get support to relocate the airport and research ways to relieve obligations from the city's previous use of FAA grant funds," the study is recommending.

The study also recommends expanding the state-mandated Military Land Use Notification Area beyond the existing 3,000-foot boundary surrounding the perimeter of the base. The recommendation is for expansion of the area another 6,000 feet to establish a notification/review area that extends a total of 9,000 feet from Kings Bay's boundaries.

The advantages, according to the study, include enhancement of coordination between the base and Camden County and St. Marys, the two jurisdictions in closest proximity. It also would provide additional assurance that future development will not pose compatibility issues with Kings Bay.

"One of the most pressing issues involving military installations and the civilian communities that surround them is incompatible development, which can pose challenges for the continuity and effectiveness of military operations and missions," the study concluded. "Collaboration among military installations and local communities is critical to protect military missions, to enhance the health of communities and to preserve rights of private property owners."

The study predicted Camden County's population and economy will grow. Development pressure will likely increase as the local economy recovers and the real estate market cycle progresses.

The study points out that coordination of military and local community entities is vital to ensure that military operations are not negatively affected by new development.

The military has a significant impact on the local economy. Estimated annual expenditures from Kings Bay include $78.6 million in goods and services and a $600 million payroll. The impact of Coast Guard Maritime Force Protection Unit is $19.7 million and the Coast Guard Maritime Safety Security Team $8.6 million.

Currently, there are approximately 5,244 personnel on active duty, 1,696 appropriated fund employees, 367 non-appropriated fund employees, and 1,672 contracted employees, totaling 8,797 workers in Camden County.

The study recommended establishing smart-growth land use and development procedures for vacant and redevelopment sites near the installation, identifying existing and future non-compatible uses and developing enhanced communication and access management plans involving various highway and waterway linkages between the community and the base's airspace.

"It is advantageous for the city to build a broad coalition to address these complex challenges," the study said.

-- Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.

Copyright 2014 - The Brunswick News, Ga.

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