Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why is airport expansion necessary?

Dear Editor:

I understand that during the recent Republican municipal election forum that a Walterboro resident expressed concern about the low-flying aircraft over her home near the Lowcountry Regional Airport. The candidates apparently tried to pass responsibility to the FAA, stating that the takeoff/landing altitudes are regulated by that federal agency.

What these candidates did not explain (and some may not have known) is that the FAA usually requires an airport to conduct an environmental assessment when it lengthens and strengthens a runway, as was done between 2001-2003. Runway 5/23 (which is the runway closest to the residential areas near the intersection of North Lemacks Street and Robertson Boulevard) was lengthened to 6,002 feet, which made it the longest runway at the airport. The FAA granted the airport a “categorical exclusion” and did not require an assessment, which would have studied, among other things, the impact of the jets and planes taking off and landing so close to residential areas.

In a letter dated May 1, 2017, a group of concerned citizens petitioned the Walterboro-Colleton County Airport Commission to investigate alternate flight paths that would require aircraft traffic to avoid flying over residential areas, and to use other runways aside from Runway 5/23. We have never received a reply, and in my requests for information from the FAA, I have never been advised that an environmental assessment has been ordered.

The residents of the North Lemacks Street Neighborhood are bearing the brunt of the noise and safety concerns. In addition, two historic districts containing approximately 200 houses, churches and other structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places are being negatively impacted.

By the time this letter is published the municipal elections will have been held. Do the city council members and mayor have any intention of addressing this problem? How about the county council members? The airport commission is comprised of members of both, as well as the county treasurer, the county auditor and other officials.

I first went to an airport commission meeting to complain about the problem in April 2016. I did not know at the time that a new business, Lowcountry Aviation, was trying to lease approximately six acres of airport property adjacent to a runway. The lease was approved on Jan. 3, 2017, and the company is now seeking approval for a “fuel farm.” The language in the ordinance stated that the company was going to handle “aircraft management; aircraft maintenance/repair/overhaul, including electronic/avionic components; aircraft modifications and upgrades; engineering design; aircraft paint; charter airline services; flight training and simulation; aircraft brokerage; aircraft rentals; aircraft on-ground services; and aircraft storage services.” A sign posted at the airport terminal advertises that the company offers “general maintenance; aircraft weighing; engine borescope; interior refurbishment; electronic propeller balancing; helicopter main rotor track and balance; and annual and phase inspections.” How many more jets and planes will be taking off and landing at the airport once this company starts conducting business?

The South Carolina legislature passed job tax credit incentives to cover this new business. Readers have expressed excitement at the prospect of new jobs, but businesses that qualify for these job tax credits do not have to hire workers from Colleton County — the jobs only have to be created in Colleton County. How many local residents have this type of training or experience? Lowcountry Aviation has represented it is going to invest $3.2 million and hire 127 full-time employees. Isn’t it more likely that former Boeing employees who have been laid off from their jobs in North Charleston would be among the obvious candidates? (Boeing announced a layoff of 200 employees last June.) Should Colleton County residents have their health and safety threatened, their peace and quiet ruined and their homes devalued in favor of out-of-county workers who would simply drive to and from Walterboro for work?

Who is looking out for the best interests of those who are bearing the negative impacts? Why won’t the airport commission take action now before the situation gets worse? Why are taxpayers underwriting the cost of a $1.6 million expansion of the airport terminal — and why was this expansion even necessary?

Carol Black
Los Angeles, Calif.
and Walterboro

Original article can be found here ➤

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