Monday, May 22, 2017

Isn’t now right time to plan for airport? Lowcountry Regional (KRBW), Walterboro, South Carolina

Dear Editor:

I am writing to clarify and correct some information contained in an article printed in the May 11th edition of this newspaper (“Noise assessment on airport requested”).

First — I am not a resident of Walterboro; I am a Walterboro native and homeowner. I am making this request on behalf of a diverse group of Walterboro residents and homeowners — some of whom live in the two Walterboro historic districts, some in the North Lemacks Street neighborhood, and some outside of these two areas.

Second — We are not asking that the airport be “closed” or “shut down” as some of your readers apparently believe. Our petition states: “We, the undersigned, respectfully request the Walterboro-Colleton County Airport Commission order an environmental assessment to determine the effects of aircraft traffic landing and taking off from the various runways at the Lowcountry Regional Airport in Walterboro, S.C. We further request that the commission investigate alternate flight paths that would require aircraft traffic to avoid flying over heavily populated residential areas (relative to the general population of Walterboro), and to use any other runway(s) instead of Runway #5 (located near the intersection of North Lemacks Street and Robertson Boulevard), due to concerns related to noise, safety, health and the free exercise of religion.”

These planes and jets are flying very low over the houses and churches in the areas near Runway #5, (particularly during landings and takeoffs), causing concerns over noise, safety, health and the free exercise of religion (the planes and jets are flying over these churches even during church services).

I have consulted with a commercial pilot employed by one of the major airlines who has advised me that Runway #35 (which also has GPS navigational landing capability, as Runway #5 has) can be used. This pilot could see from the aerial maps of the airport and technical information gleaned from www.airnav.com that the pilots can more easily taxi directly to the terminal if they use Runway #5 instead of Runway #35 — and that is more than likely why they are choosing Runway #5.

We believe that our valid concerns should not take a back seat to the extra few minutes a pilot would need to taxi to the terminal from another runway —especially since there is more vacant land near the ends of all the other runways.

Long-term residents have advised us that aircraft were not allowed to takeoff and land (or perhaps even fly) so close to residential areas during the heyday of the airport during World War II.

Many of the comments I have read are based on the noise and number of planes and jets that are flying over Walterboro now — but how many may be flying over residential areas in the future? We understand that at least some of the aircraft traffic is due to flight training and takeoffs/landings connected simply to the sale of jet fuel (see the airport’s website: “Fly in and let us top off the tank for you.”).

As the city and county have recently approved an ordinance leasing airport property to a business (Lowcountry Aviation Company Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul, LLC, hereinafter “Lowcountry Aviation”) that states as one of its planned business activities as flight training, we are even more concerned that we will be subjected to an increased number of aircraft conducting “touch-and-go” landings, and from safety issues due to inexperienced pilots learning to fly right over our heads.

Tourism and economic development efforts have used the historic nature of Walterboro as a tool to draw both visitors and business owners to come to the area — but we are being asked to bear the brunt of the negative effects of the airport expansion efforts.

Many general aviation airports restrict the use of certain runways located near residential neighborhoods under noise abatement mandates. Residents of the North Lemacks Street neighborhood in particular are enduring the worst noise problems and safety concerns; how does it make sense to “revitalize” this neighborhood with grant monies spent to install sidewalks and improve drainage if these large jets are allowed to fly so low over this area on their landing approaches?

As Lowcountry Aviation has not made its plans public (as was stated in The Press and Standard would be done during the first quarter of 2017), we cannot know what other plans they may have for the site leased to them for at least the next 30 years (not including the renewal terms granted) — initially for only $3,000 per year (with slight increases later tied to the Consumer Price Index).

What we do know is that tax monies estimated as approximately $1.69 million will help fund an expansion of the terminal. The airport is currently seeking funding for runway lighting and an ILS Approach Lighting System (for planes that do not have GPS navigational capabilities); why weren’t the tax monies earmarked for the airport terminal instead used for improvements to runways not located as close to residential areas?

Lowcountry Aviation has stated its intention to invest approximately $3.2 million and hire approximately 127 employees (not required in any public documents to be Colleton County residents), and we have been advised that at least one group has approached the city about opening a flight training school near the intersection of North Lemacks Street and Robertson Boulevard.

Isn’t now the right time to determine how the airport can operate in such a way as to lessen any negative impacts on its residential neighbors?

Carol Black 

Los Angeles, Calif.

and Walterboro

Original article can be found here:  http://walterborolive.com

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