Make a decision on airport plan

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Make a decision on airport plan

Published Wednesday, February 27, 2013   |  437 Words  |  

Beaufort County Council needs to act on the master plan for the county airport on Lady's Island.

The proposal is controversial because it calls for the runway to be extended almost 1,000 feet into the marsh. That was a concern when the council discussed the plan last November. Since then, the plan has fallen off the radar, with no discussion and no vote.

Council Chairman Paul Sommerville of Lady's Island should follow through on his promise earlier this month to push it to some kind of conclusion. Elected leaders must make tough calls. They should not have the option to ignore a controversial plan.

More study, more options and more public input should be part of the renewed look at the master plan. It outlines nearly $25 million in expenditures that would be done in phases over the next 20 years to meet safety concerns, expand or upgrade facilities and extend the runway and taxiway to meet projected increased use and aircraft demands.

It calls for a 4,400-foot runway, which it says could eventually be 5,000 feet. The proposed extension would fill 19 acres of salt marsh. Nearby Dataw Island residents expressed concerns about increased airport noise and the project's impact on the environment. Others say the expansion is necessary for economic and safety reasons.

We're not saying we are for or against any of these ideas, but we are saying it is time to bring this debate to the fore.

Since the $45,000 plan was unveiled by CDM Smith Consulting in August 2011, it has been approved by the county's Aviation Board and Beaufort City Council.

But it needs County Council approval if it is to go on to the state Aeronautics Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration. FAA approval is needed if it is to be eligible for grants. Environmental impact studies also would be needed. And so would a lot of money.

The plan needs more public airing, not less.

Sommerville stresses that the master plan is a guide, not a requirement. But County Council should state what it wants the airport to be in the future -- and what it does not want it to be.

Local history teaches us that the push to lengthen an airport runway to keep up with the marketplace will not disappear. And as the airport grows, its impact on neighbors will get bigger.

These issues are not going to go away. County Council must fully understand its options, confirm all data, listen to the public and then make a decision.