July 07--ST. MARYS -- The Federal Aviation Administration's decision not to allow city officials to close the St. Marys Airport means the city is basically where it was 13 years ago when the Navy first described the facility as a threat to security.
It means, in short, St. Marys is stuck with a dead airport, one official says.
The airport was among the last in the nation to reopen in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks because of concerns of potential attacks or crashes at nearby Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, home to a fleet of ballistic missile submarines.
Mayor John Morrissey's update on recent discussions with officials from the FAA and Georgia Department of Transportation shows how far the efforts to close the existing airport have regressed.
The FAA and GDOT confirmed outright closure of the airport would not be approved. The FAA said closure would have to be commensurate with the opening of another airport. It also said it would not assist with funding if the city begins a search for a new location.
The biggest disappointment, however, is the city will be required to have the existing airport site assessed six months before opening a new airport and the assessed value will have to be contributed by the city to help offset the cost of construction of a new airport.
The FAA-funded study in the mid 2000s identified several sites where a new airport could be built. Sea Island Co. donated a tract near Woodbine, which would have met the requirement for the city's share of the cost to build a new airport.
The city could have sold the existing property to a developer and kept the money.
City officials later decided not to build an airport at the donated site because of environmental issues and the possibility they could build an airport at the site of a proposed spaceport, which has a 12,000-foot runway.
Airport authority lawyer Jim Stein said he is frustrated with the lack of progress in resolving the issue.
"This is a major issue with the community's airport and it has gone on far too long without having the principals at the table," he said. "I don't see how this airport can be of benefit without a resolution.'
Stein said he will continue to call for a meeting with officials from the Navy, FAA, DOT, city and airport authority in the same room to discuss how to resolve the issue.
"No one can convince me that if there is an issue of security that affects this country and our Navy that there is not some resolution or compromise," he said. "As long as the issue is not resolved I don't see how anything of significance and benefit to the community can be accomplished with the airport."
Stein and some city officials have said they want to close the airport without opening a new one to address the Navy's concerns, but only if the estimated $5 million in financial penalties for improvements are waived.
"The problem is we don't have the principals together," he said. "You can't convince me the FAA trumps national security. Here we are, stuck with a dead airport."
-- Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook or at 464-7655.
Copyright 2014 - The Brunswick News, Ga.