Closing St. Marys Airport Won't Be Easy

June 28--ST. MARYS -- It may be more difficult to close the St. Marys Airport than some think.

Mayor John Morrissey said he met with Federal Aviation Authority officials this week to determine their position on closing the airport, which is considered a safety and security threat to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

FAA officials are willing to work with city officials to relocate the airport, which currently occupies a site less than a mile from the high-security Navy base, which is home to a fleet of ballistic missile submarines.

But agency officials said it's unlikely they would grant an exemption on the pro-rated financial penalties the city would have to pay for past improvements at the airport if it is closed without building another one elsewhere in the county.

"Closing the airport would most likely not be approved by the FAA," Morrissey said.

City and St. Marys Airport Authority officials said the city cannot afford the estimated $5 million in penalties it would have to pay to close the airport before the life span of the improvements expire.

Morrissey said city officials are not actively pursuing airport relocation because they are waiting for the outcome of an ongoing attempt to bring a spaceport to Camden County.

If a spaceport does come, it would build on abandoned property at the end of Harriett's Bluff Road. City officials said they will try to negotiate a deal to operate a municipal airport at the site, which features a 12,000-foot runway that will need repairs because it hasn't been used in years.

"Our question is how can we continue dialogue with the FAA," Morrissey said. "There's lots of work to do."

Morrissey said he notified Navy officials at Kings Bay about his meeting with the FAA so they could pass the news up the chain of command, but he has not received a response.

"They just accepted the information," he said. "The city sees itself working with the Navy."

He said he also contacted the office of Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Thursday and was told the senator will help the city anyway he can to resolve the issue.

Airport authority lawyer Jim Stein expressed frustration about the FAA's reluctance to allow the city to simply close the airport because of the national security concerns. He said a Joint Land Use Study released last month, which looked at the Navy base and surrounding community, made it clear the airport is the No. 1 safety and security concern.

Morrissey said city officials understand the concerns raised by the study and want to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

"We're more than willing to find some solutions for this," Morrissey said. "I don't think we dare risk not taking action."

-- 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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