Thursday, October 10, 2013

St. Marys airport vandalized same night that Navy repeats facility is a security, safety risk to Kings Bay

For the fourth time this year, runway lights at the St. Marys Airport were broken Wednesday night on the same night the Navy repeated it no longer wants the facility as a neighbor to Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, officials said.

After the latest vandalism, the St. Marys Airport Authority contracted with fixed base operator Jeff Stanford to drive the airport runways daily to check for any damage or unauthorized activity, authority member Frank Drane said.

At the same time, the authority is going forward with securing a $500,000 grant to build a security fence around the airport even though authority members say it is a waste of money given the airport’s lack of traffic.

“Why would we want to spend that kind of money on an airport that is dying on the vine?’’ authority lawyer Jim Stein asked.

Although he also said the airport is not financially viable, Drane said one reason is the liability that could come with an accident or injury.

“I’m going to do my best to make it the most secure airport in the nation,’’ he said.

It is up to the city to close the airport and relocate it, but the City Council has made no move in that direction, Stein said.

Drane said the answer is to get the Georgia Department of Transportation, the FAA, the Navy and some state representatives together to get some “major players” behind a relocation.

“Asking the city doesn’t seem to work,’’ Drane said.

The city owns the airport and leases the facility to Airport Authority to operate.

That fact was made very clear in the past when the authority tried to assert itself into a proposal to move the airport to donated land near Woodbine.

The main sticking point could be the possibility that the FAA could require a reimbursement of an estimated $5 million it invested in the airport, Drane said.

Kings Bay public information officer Scott Bassett said the Navy made the same assertions Wednesday night that base and regional commanders made in letters a year ago.

“Our message was the same. The airport is a safety and security threat to the base. We support the facility in the relocation of the facility,’’ he said.

Bassett said an ongoing joint land use study on development around the base is due in mid-November.

“It will lay out some recommendations whether [the airport] is compatible or incompatible with our mission,’’ he said.

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